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Tennessee to Ban Open Alcohol in Moving Cars

One of the last states to allow open containers of alcohol in moving cars may soon fall in line with federal road regulations.

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By Bryan Le

02/28/14

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Tennessee, one of the last states that allows citizens to have open containers of alcohol in moving cars, is set to change their ways. The proposed "Pass the Bottle" law would punish both drivers and passengers for any open containers of alcohol in their vehicle.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jon Lundberg (R), says that Tennessee law basically allows citizens to drink while they drive. “It’s really quite sad…It’s legal to drink alcohol in a car in Tennessee,” Lundberg said. “Often it’s the driver doing it and when the car is pulled over, he simply passes the bottle to the passenger.”

The current law only fines the driver if an officer is able to determine that the driver was the one drinking, but Lundberg's proposed law would fine all occupants of the vehicle if an open container of alcohol is present. Local municipal governments back Lundberg's bill because, as one of the 11 states that fails to comply with federal road regulations, Tennessee has “foregone more than $90 million in federal transportation funding."

If enacted, the 650 open container violations each year could bring in $40 each and $1.5 million in annual federal funding to the state. “These are monies that could be used to build roads and build bridges,” Lundberg said.

Critics of the bill say it's a superfluous measure that attacks the freedom of law-abiding drinkers who have assigned a designated driver and does not address the issue of drunk driving. Passengers of limousines or living quarters of recreational vehicles are exempt from the bill. 

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