Wyoming bill addresses open container provision

| 1/11/2006

A Wyoming state lawmaker has renewed an effort to toughen the state’s open container law.

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, recently made his fourth attempt to ban the consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways in the state.

Under Wyoming law, drivers are barred from having an open container of alcohol, but passengers 21 years of age or older are not. Supporters say the current law is difficult to enforce because a driver can just hand an open container to a passenger if pulled over.

Similar bills passed the state’s House two years in a row, only to be beaten back in the Senate.

In 2005, Senators approved the bill first then sent it to the House. There, several changes were made to the original version and lawmakers in both chambers were unable to reach a compromise, which killed the bill.

This year’s version addresses one of the main points of contention from a year ago. It requires open containers in RVs to be locked up in cabinets or compartments.

If approved by legislators, it would free up millions in federal dollars for improving Wyoming roads.

The state is being forced to spend a chunk of its federal highway money on traffic safety because it doesn’t have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles. In 2004, that forced the state to divert 3 percent, or about $1 million, of its highway construction budget and put it to other uses.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states either pass open container laws or spend a percentage of their federal highway dollars on public safety projects such as drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents.

SF36 is awaiting assignment to a committee for the legislative session that begins in February.