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Connecticut DOT backs a ban on allowing passengers to have open containers of alcohol

I-95 in Connecticut highway traffic
I-95 in Connecticut

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has backed a bill that would ban having an open container of alcohol in a moving vehicle. Connecticut is among just nine states where it is still legal for passengers who are over 21-years-old to drink while on the road.

Eric Jackson, an associate professor of the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center at the University of Connecticut, said the bill could help stem a rise in alcohol-related fatal crashes in the state and support law enforcement efforts.

“Not having an open container law allows the driver a little bit of flexibility or a little bit of an escape that if they are caught with an open container, they can say it's their passengers drink,” Jackson said. “There's also potentially if you have a passenger in the vehicle that is drinking, there's the temptation of the driver to also drink as well.”

Almost 40% of fatal accidents involved alcohol-impaired drivers in 2020, according to the latest data from the state Department of Transportation. The number of fatal crashes due to impaired drivers has not been finalized for 2021.

In 2017, Connecticut also had the highest percentage of drunk driving deaths in the U.S with 43% of fatal crashes involving a driver that had a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Jackson said lawmakers have failed to ban driving with an open container for over 30 years because of state funding.

“One of the main reasons they’re looking to kind of get rid of or to pass an open container law is that funding from the state, if you don't have an open container law, is diverted away from capital projects and has to be spent on alcohol education and has to be spent on other things that are related to impaired driving,” Jackson said.

He said the proposed open container ban has support from state transit officials because it would let them use more funding on building bridges and fixing roadways.

Since 2001, Connecticut has received 3% of the $164 million available in federal support. Much of that percentage has gone to educational programming in the highway safety program instead of road construction and maintenance.

The bill was introduced into the state’s Transportation Committee. If it gets approved by the Legislature and the governor, the legislation would take effect on October 1.

Limousine passengers or passengers in vehicles being driven by hired drivers will still be able to have open containers. This also applies to people in living quarters of RVs or trailers.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.