The latest Tennessee effort to outlaw passengers from having open alcohol containers in vehicles failed in a House committee this week.
The House State and Local Government Committee voted to send the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol to be studied after the General Assembly adjourns, effectively meaning it will not be considered again this session.
It’s already illegal in Tennessee to consume alcoholic beverages while driving, but that law does not extend to passengers.
The measure sought to make it a misdemeanor for a driver to have any more than .01 blood alcohol content if there was an open alcohol container in the vehicle. Opponents argued that standard is unfair because it is stricter than the .08 blood-alcohol limit for drunken driving.
Rep. Curry Todd, the committee’s chairman, said he supported Lundberg’s bill but was unable to get the panel to vote on it.
“It’s already illegal to be drunk and drive,” said Todd, R-Memphis. “We were just trying to work it through.”
Democratic Rep. Ulysses Jones of Memphis said he was also concerned that that bill could have penalized drivers for the actions of their passengers.
“On a charge when you’re just driving and you’re not drinking, I think it’s too heavy handed,” he said.
Tennessee’s current law is out of compliance with federal guidelines on open containers in vehicles, which has caused a portion of the state’s share of federal road money to be diverted to road safety programs in Tennessee.
In 2008, about $14.6 million that could have been spent on roads was instead designated to areas like specialized drunken-driving prosecutors and grants to pay police overtime for DUI enforcement.
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