New state open container

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 1, 2000

law hits books today


Staff Writer

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

July 31, 2000 10 PM

Partying with alcohol could get you in trouble.

As of today, riding around in a car with an open beer will be illegal for the driver and passengers.

If law enforcement officers see alcohol in any hand or an open bottle, the person

holding the container should be ready for a ticket.

Jim Alexander, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety said it is still uncertain as to how State Troopers will handle a situation when there is an open container of alcohol, but nobody holding the booze.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said enforcing the law is going to be tough for his deputies. He plans to talk with the District Attorney about defining exactly who can be ticketed and under what circumstances.

The Alabama Legislature gave its final approval earlier this year to ban open containers of alcohol, such as cups of liquor and beer, in vehicles and setting a $25 fine for a violation. Even if no one is drinking the alcohol, any open container in the passenger compartment will be against the law.

However, open containers of alcohol, such as bottles with broken seals, can be carried in the trunk, truck bed or rear compartment of a sport utility vehicle.

Before now, a driver or passenger could have an open container in a vehicle as long as the driver was not intoxicated.

"We will utilitze common sense and good judgenment in the enforcement of this law," Troy Police Chief Anthony Everage said.

"The spirit of the law is for us to maintain the safety of people in this community," Everage said.

The law may not be popular with everyone, but law enforcement officers have to enforce the laws passed down to them.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Senate voted 25-2 for the bill and the House concurred 80-0 after the federal government threatened to take away road money from states who didn’t pass such a law.

Alabama was being threatened with the loss of millions of road construction money.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said the threat of losing money is "always an incentive for a state that lives on the edge, anyway."

State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, had some problems with the bill, but voted for it because of the chance of losing those road dollars.

He said the law is "trying to do is send the wrong message. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that you can sit in the back of a pickup truck and drink, but can’t sit in the backseat."

Boothe said he only voted for the watered-down version of the bill because "we desperately need those funds" for roadway construction.

"We were able to water it down and still comply with federal regulations," Boothe said.

Although passengers in cars and trucks will be found in violation of the law, those in commercial buses, limousines or motor homes will be exempt from the new law, as will vehicles parked off the right-of-way, which was added to protect the state’s tailgating tradition.

Capt. Hugh McCall of the Alabama Department of Public Safety said "conversion vans" are not considered an exception to the law.

Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee are among more than 30 states that have open container laws; however, the laws in Georgia and Tennessee only apply to drivers.

In addition to stopping suspected violators of the open container law, officers will also be able to ask the driver for a license and proof of insurance.