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Legislators, Not Sober Drivers, Are Ones With Impaired Judgment

Open-container bill wouldn’t make roads safer, but it would make life more difficult for drivers

It’s a good thing that the current open-container bill wasn’t law when I was a newspaper reporter. One of our photographers could have unwittingly broken the law as we covered a story.

We joined two hilarious volunteers, a lawyer and a funeral-home director, for the city-wide cleanup. Their mission: To become real garbagemen. They debated what to do with goopy trash bags they dubbed radioactive (“Real garbagemen aren’t afraid of nuclear waste.”) They poked fun at other volunteers (“Real garbagemen don’t have clean gloves.”)

Soon, their truck was heaping with trash. Then they saw another bag.

“Real garbagemen don’t drive past garbage,” the passenger told the driver.

The passenger jumped out of the truck and grabbed the bag. He couldn’t wedge it into the truck bed, so he opened the car door of the photographer who was following them. He tossed the bag on her front-seat floor.

Under the open-container bill – House Bill 1057 – if there was just one empty beer can or bourbon bottle inside that bag, she could be ticketed.

It doesn’t matter that she was sober. It doesn’t matter that someone else put the bag there without her consent. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t know the bag’s contents. It doesn’t matter that she was hauling away litter. It doesn’t matter that her employer would have been tougher than any officer if she had been drinking while she was working.

All that matters under this bill is if there’s an open alcohol container in the passenger compartment.

Once again, our legislature is leading us into the Land of Unintended Consequences because it lacks the sense and the guts to do the right thing, which is nothing.

Too bad. They had been holding firmly against this legislation long sought by the federal government.

The federal government has extorted Hoosiers to the tune of $20 million a year of highway taxes that our drivers have paid, just because it doesn’t like Indiana’s highway law. Never mind that pesky 10th Amendment, which says that powers not specifically designated by the U.S. Constitution belong to the states.

The Indiana General Assembly should have learned from its recent tour to the Land of Unintended Consequences. A law that was passed in 2001 and went into effect this January required all food-serving establishments to employ licensed food handlers.

It inadvertently banned potlucks at churches and other nonprofits. Why, Indiana can’t have those dangerous church ladies making gooseberry pies or corn pudding or potato salad without state approval, even if grieving families openly appreciated having a nice meal after funerals.


Back to HB 1057.

Like other alcohol laws, it clearly will have some bizarre inconsistencies. Under current liquor laws, you can’t buy carry-out non-alcoholic beer on Sundays, even though you can’t get even a minor buzz off it, yet you can buy all the 50-proof Nyquil you want. Or 28.6-proof Scope. Or 70-proof vanilla extract. (For comparison, domestic beers are 10-14 proof and domestic wines are 24-28 proof.)

I don’t want blue laws to ban such purchases. But this shows how current laws don’t make sense.

Surely harmless non-alcoholic beer will be part of this bill because, jeepers, a police officer looking from a distance can’t tell a green O’Doul’s bottle from a green Becks bottle.

Why don’t they go all the way with the law? If you have an open Scope bottle, you’re toast. Better keep that vanilla in the trunk. And no tolerance for a cup of orange juice, either. If the orange juice in your refrigerator was opened three days ago, it has more alcohol than a bottle of O’Doul’s.

This bill would punish recyclers, who reduce the load on our landfills, pick up litter and support nonprofits, such as the Muncie animal shelter.

Collectors hauling their goods to the flea market could face fines for cans and bottles that have been empty so long that the drinker has been dead for decades. Caterers (or parents of the bride and groom) would not be able to choose where in the van to put the half-used bottles left from a wedding reception.

The problem isn’t with alcohol containers.

The first problem is unsafe drivers. (Ironically, drunk drivers will drive past police officers ticketing sober drivers.)

The other problem is with legislators who pass laws without thinking about the consequences. Their judgment is clearly impaired. They’re the ones who deserve a citation.
Sheri Conover Sharlow, Libertarian Writers Bureau
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