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New Tennessee bill would put an end to open booze in cars

Scott Greer Contributor

One of the few states in the U.S. that allows the consumption of alcohol in moving cars might put an end to that practice if a new bill passes.

Tennessee is considering “Pass the Bottle” legislation that would penalize passengers, as well as drivers, for having open containers of alcohol in their vehicle. The bill passed through a Tennessee State House subcommittee on Wednesday and is expected to advance to a vote.

The current law in Tennessee has been criticized by the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Jon Lundberg, for essentially allowing individuals to drink in cars.

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

The new penalty would impose a fine upon both the driver and the passenger when there is a violation of the state’s open container law. The current law only fines the driver if it is determined that he or she is the one consuming the booze.

Tennessee is only one of 11 states that doesn’t comply with federally mandated laws concerning open containers in vehicles. States that don’t fully comply with federal regulations are penalized with reductions in federal highway funds.

However, the bill has met criticism for encouraging the harassment of law-abiding drinkers. A columnist for the Knoxville weekly MetroPulse wrote that the bill is “wrongheaded and superfluous” and is simply a “feel good” measure that will not solve the complex policy problem of drunk driving.

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