Friday, May 9, 2008

99 bottles of beer in the car …

Faced with an uncomfortable choice this year, the Tennessee General Assembly once again demonstrated its inimitable ability to crawfish.

A bill that would ban open containers of alcoholic beverages in vehicles has once again been introduced, and once again died. I guess the legislators were afraid to tamper with the God-given right of bored passengers to suck on roadies. (These are the same folks who also defeated schemes to require that dogs riding in the back of pickups be secured instead of making them play the tail-end on snap-the-whip turns.)

For the past 18 years, Tennessee law has prohibited drivers from having an open container of an adult beverage, but not passengers. Hence the nickname for the dead bill: “The Pass the Bottle Act.”

Failure to pass the act means that some $12 million in federal highway funds that would have gone into the state’s road fund will instead continue to be routed to the Highway Safety Commission. There, they have been used for programs to fight, among other things, you guessed it, drinking and driving.

Which brought up the difficult choice: Passing the open-container ban would likely have meant returning those federal dollars to the road-building fund, leaving the safety program with a huge hole in its budget.

I don’t envy the legislators choice on this one. Highway Patrol DUI citations have been dropping a bit during the past few years in Tennessee – whether because fewer people are drinking and driving or because troopers can’t keep up, I don’t know.

I’d like to think it’s a growing sense of caution and personal responsibility, but that seems to fly against the overall trend of our society.

Personally, I’m on the side of banning roadies altogether. I will grant you that having an open container in a vehicle does not automatically mean the driver is partaking. However, it’s an easy pass-off if he or she did have a few sips. And, the merrier the passengers get, the higher the likely level of distraction for even the most sober drivers. Just ask anyone who has had to take an over-served friend home (desperately looking for a place to pull over now on the way).

And who knows? The price of gasoline might encourage people to stay home and get potted, rather than going somewhere and putting lives at risk. I’d drink to that.