Effort in Tennessee would toughen open container rule

| 3/22/2007

A bill in the Tennessee House would prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways in the state. The bill would also free up millions in federal dollars for improving roads.

Tennessee law already prohibits drivers from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers 21 years of age or older are free to drink while in vehicles. Supporters say the current rules are difficult to enforce because drivers can just hand an open container to a passenger if pulled over.

Sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, the bill would eliminate the open container provision in state law. Violators would face up to $50 fines and/or 30 days in jail.

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

Tennessee is one of about a dozen states that allow open alcohol containers in vehicles. This year, that distinction is expected to force the state to pull 3 percent, or about $15 million, out of the highway construction budget and put it to other uses. The state has diverted about $44 million from roads since fiscal year 2001, The Tennessean reported.

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

The bill - HB1396 - is in the House State and Local Government Committee.