Legislation to ban all open containers of alcohol in vehicles in Tennessee has once again hit a roadblock. The “Pass the Bottle” bill failed in a subcommittee of the House State and Local Government Committee last month. While no driver may drink alcohol or possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle in Tennessee, passengers are allowed under state law to consume booze in that very same vehicle. This loophole allows a driver to simply pass the bottle to a passenger if he or she is stopped by a law enforcement officer.
The leading argument against the legislation is that it would infringe on the rights of University of Tennessee fans who wish to enjoy a cocktail (while being driven by a sober friend) to a football game in Knoxville.
Several members of the House subcommittee said last month they felt Lundberg’s bill was confusing and could infringe on a sober driver’s ability to control what goes on inside his own vehicle.
Law enforcement officials, however, say that’s hardly a valid reason for state legislators to ignore the dangers of drinking and driving.
“It’s time we stopped worrying about tailgating and started getting alcohol out of these vehicles,” Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott told the House subcommittee Feb. 29.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said it was time Tennessee followed the example of 40 other states and ban all open containers of alcohol in vehicles. He believes the measure could save as many as 24 lives annually.
The bill has been endorsed by sheriffs, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. Lundberg has appeared to be close to passing the bill several times in recent years, only to see the legislation sent to a study committee. Proponents of the bill say the move has been a successful stall tactic on the part of opponents who are indifferent to sobering statistics that show more than 300 Tennesseans die annually in alcohol-related auto crashes.
The subcommittee’s latest vote on Lundberg’s bill ended in a tie, with two members voting for the measure, two members voting “no” and five members passing on the vote. Rep. Kent Williams, an independent from Elizabethton, was one of those who passed on the vote, but he told Lundberg that he took “offense” to the sponsor’s comments that a “no” vote on the bill meant lawmakers are not serious about stopping drunken driving.
Williams said he found it curious that Lundberg draws no such parallels to a vote on another bill he is sponsoring to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores.
Tell us what you think. Should the General Assembly pass legislation to ban all open containers of alcohol in the passenger areas of motor vehicles?
Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification.