Archive for Sunday, September 2, 2001

Texas passengers go dry

Law ends ‘drinking and riding’ in Lone Star State

September 2, 2001

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— Texas' tolerant mix of cars and alcohol, which for generations made it easier to drink and drive, became another roadside casualty Saturday.

For the first time since buggies became horseless, it's illegal to drink and ride.

The open-container law outlaws what many Texans came to view as a staple of road trips, drives to sporting events or just the ride home from work an open can, bottle or cup of anything with alcohol in it.

Safety advocates and law enforcement groups, who tried to get the restriction passed for more than a decade, finally have seen their efforts produce a law that they say is founded on simple common sense.

"If we really want to stop drinking and driving, we need to get the alcohol out of the cars," said Bill Lewis, a spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "The only way to do that is for the law to apply to everybody in the car.

"It's been too easy for drivers to drink and then pass it to their buddy and say, 'It's not my beer. It's his."'

The prohibition represents a big stride away from the state's freewheeling reputation involving alcohol and the open road.

"Texas has always been different," said Roger Hodges, 55, who had beers with friends this week around the tailgate of a pickup at Keller's burgers-and-beer drive-in in Dallas.

"I don't like the law. I don't see nothing wrong with having an open container if you're not driving."

It's been illegal in Texas only since 1987 to drink while driving, and police considered the law virtually unenforceable since it required them to see a driver consume a clearly alcoholic beverage before stopping a vehicle.

About two-thirds of the states now have laws banning open or resealed drinks in passenger compartments.

Arguments over the issue are hardly one-sided, however, which may explain why car and truck passengers have retained their drinking rights for so many years.

In counterpoint to the fundamental safety concerns, others view the question as a matter of individual responsibility and personal freedom.

"There's no reason to have an open-container law for passengers," said Lee Sammons, 45, who drank a beer last week while riding to a Dallas concert from Tyler.

"If there's a suspicion about the driver drinking, the police can give him a Breathalyzer test."

A prevailing attitude that people could make their own choices about having a beer when they're merely riding in a vehicle kept supporters of the new law frustrated for years.

"That's probably the number one reason we didn't get the law changed sooner," said Dallas police Lt. John Branton, a traffic section supervisor.

Drinking while riding and even driving is part of a "good ol' boy" outlook that's been slow to change, he said.

Dallas police have no delusions that everyone will keep their drinks off the road.

"It's going to take some enforcement," said Sgt. Patrick McAlvey of the DWI task force.

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