Open container bill hailed as life saver, criticized as harassment of the law-abiding

A bill outlawing open containers of alcoholic beverages inside vehicles got out of a House sub Wednesday, reports the Kingsport Times-News. Meanwhile, Frank Cagle opines that the proposal – repeatedly defeated in past years – is an example of “wrong-headed and unnecessary” legislation.

From the Times-News:

After years of failure, a Tennessee State Government Subcommittee advanced on Wednesday state Rep. Jon Lundberg’s so-called “Pass The Bottle” legislation that would ban passengers from having open alcohol containers in vehicles.

Lundberg, R-Bristol, had argued over the years that the legislation would save lives and bring more federal highway funds to Tennessee, but it repeatedly failed to get out of any committee.

“It’s really quite sad. … It’s legal to drink alcohol in a car in Tennessee,” Lundberg told lawmakers on the subcommittee. “Often it’s the driver doing it and when the car is pulled over, he simply passes the bottle to the passenger.”

Tri-Cities municipal governments had consistently advocated Lundberg’s bill by noting Tennessee has “foregone more than $90 million in federal transportation funding” since 2004 by not being in compliance with federal open container requirements.

The bill’s fiscal impact statement estimated there would be about 650 open container violations each year with a current average individual fine of $40. A violation would be a misdemeanor offense.

From Cagle:
The premise of this bill is that people drinking in a vehicle means they have a drinking or drunk driver. The argument is that a driver stopped by the police just tells a companion to “hold this.”

First of all, have you ever heard about designated drivers? It’s one of the successful campaigns by anti-drunk driving advocates. One member of the group volunteers not to drink anything but ice tea on the way to the game, the tail gate, the lake, or back and forth to dinner.

Then there are van drivers and limo drivers taking people to football games or concerts.

As to the argument the driver just hands his beer to a passenger when stopped by the law, I just have one response—what world do you live in? If you get stopped by the law and there is alcohol, open containers, or just the smell, you can bet the officer will have the driver out on the side of the road administering a field sobriety test at a minimum or likely blowing into a Breathalyzer.

The idea that a clever drinking driver can just hand his beer to a passenger and thus fool the cops or just sit smugly victorious because the state doesn’t have an open-container law is so funny, any legislator making that case ought to be laughed out of the chamber.

This is one of those feel-good bills that make people think we are doing something about drunk driving. Drunk driving is a pernicious problem often related to mental illness, self-medicating for depression, and alcoholism. You do something about it with expensive treatment, dealing with the root causes of the problem, and other approaches that cost money no one is willing to spend.

But what can be done, easily and cheaply, is to pass bills to harass law-abiding social drinkers.