Effort to ban open containers offered in Virginia

| 12/8/2008

A legislative effort filed in Virginia in the lead-up to the 2009 regular session seeks to ban consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways. The bill would free up millions in federal dollars for improving roads.

Delegate Harry Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, has filed HB1614 and it is awaiting referral to committee for the session that begins Jan. 14.

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 on 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.

Virginia is one of about a dozen states nationwide that allow 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.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor