Tougher open container law passes

MADD, state hopeful ban will prevent drunk driving

INDIANAPOLIS -- A Senate committee passed a bill Tuesday that would prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles, a move supporters say would bring Indiana millions of dollars in federal highway construction money and prevent drunk driving.\nIndiana's current law allows passengers to have open containers of alcohol as long as the driver has a blood-alcohol level of 0.04 percent or lower -- half the state's legal limit to drive.\nThe Senate bill would ban open containers in vehicles, including parked cars, even if the driver was sober. Alcohol could be placed in trunks and locked glove compartments, however, and limousines and buses would be exempt from the restrictions.\nThe federal government forces states that do not have such open-container laws to transfer highway construction money to safety programs. Indiana transferred $13.5 million out of road projects last year and lost more than $1 million outright because it did not meet the federal requirements.\nA similar version of the Senate bill was introduced last year, but failed to win approval.\nSen. Tom Wyss, the bill's sponsor, said he believed the proposal was off to a good start this session, after the Senate transportation committee voted 6-0 to support the changes.\n"It should have passed last year," said Wyss, R-Fort Wayne. "We're losing a lot of money."\nOver the last three years, Indiana has transferred about $30 million from construction projects to safety programs.\nWyss said 40 percent of the money that has been transferred would have gone to local road construction projects that need the money.\nKathy Noland, the state Department of Transportation's legislative affairs director, said the transfers hurt construction projects that need the money.\n"It is quite a loss," she said.\nThe tougher open-container law would help prevent drunk driving, a step more important than the loss of highway construction money, said Melody Stevens, executive director of Indiana's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.\n"It would deter people from drinking and driving," she said.\nIndiana is one of 14 states that does not meet the federal open-container law standards, according to MADD.

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