Open container bill heads to Indiana governor

| 5/3/2005

The Indiana General Assembly has approved a bill that would hold drivers responsible for open containers of alcohol found in the passenger sections of vehicles traveling public roadways. The bill would also free up millions in federal dollars for improving Indiana roads.

Senators voted 42-6 April 28 to approve the bill; the House passed it 77-15 a day earlier. HB1057 now moves to Gov. Mitch Daniels for his signature.

Under the bill, passengers with open containers could be fined up to $500. The driver wouldn’t necessarily be fined – instead, it would be whoever an officer determined possessed the open container.

Exceptions would be made for passengers in limousines and recreational vehicles.

Current Indiana law allows passengers to drink alcohol in a vehicle so long as the driver’s blood-alcohol content doesn’t exceed 0.04 percent.

That law, however, does not meet federal guidelines for open container restrictions. As a result, Indiana is being forced to spend a portion of its federal highway money on traffic safety programs.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states pass stricter provisions on open containers or spend a percentage of federal highway dollars on public safety projects.

This year, the lax law cost Indiana $1.6 million in road funding, and an additional $15.6 million that had to be diverted for projects such as drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents, The Indianapolis Star reported. The state has diverted $65 million from roads since fiscal year 2001.

If signed into law, the stricter provision would take effect July 1.