Virginia bill would ban open containers in vehicles

| 12/11/2007

A bill in Virginia has been filed for consideration during the 2008 regular session that is intended to make the state’s roadways a little safer.

Delegate Harry Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, has offered legislation that would prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles. It also would free up millions in federal funding for improving roads.

Virginia law now prohibits drivers from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers 21 years of age or older are free to drink while in the vehicle. The bill would eliminate the open container provision. Violators would face $25 fines.

It includes exceptions for passengers in RVs, buses and limousines.

The bill also would allow the state more freedom for how to use federal highway dollars. The state is being forced to spend a portion of its federal funding on traffic safety because the state doesn’t have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

The state is one of about a dozen nationwide that allows passengers to drink; last year, that distinction forced state officials to pull 3 percent, or about $9 million, out of its highway construction budget and put it to other uses.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states pass the provision 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.

The bill – HB27 – can be considered during session that begins Jan. 9.

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