Stricter open container rule now law in Wyoming

| Friday, March 02, 2007

Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed a bill into law Wednesday, Feb. 28, to toughen the open container law in Wyoming. The new rule takes effect July 1.

The new law, previously SF33, bans consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling highways in the state. Many communities in the state already ban open containers, but they have remained legal on state highways. Exceptions are included for passengers in buses and limousines.

To this point, state law barred drivers from having an open container of alcohol, but passengers 21 years of age or older were allowed to drink in the vehicle. Supporters say that rule was difficult to enforce because drivers could just hand the container to passengers if they were pulled over.

Similar bills passed the state's House two years in a row, only to be beaten back in the Senate. The past two years, senators approved the effort only to see talks break down in the House, effectively killing the measure.

Sponsored by Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, this year's version addressed one of the main points of contention. It requires open containers in RVs to be locked up in cabinets or compartments.

As written, the law is not strict enough to free up millions in federal dollars for improving Wyoming roads.

The state is being forced to spend millions of its federal highway money on traffic safety because the state doesn't have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles. In 2006, the state was forced to divert $5.6 million from roads.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states either pass open container laws or spend a percentage of federal highway dollars on public safety projects such as drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents. Wyoming is one of six states that don't meet federal compliance.

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