What is TEA-21?
In America, a vast majority of states prohibit any type of open alcohol containers in public and in vehicles. Since the federal government has left open alcohol containers laws in the hands of the states (and sometimes in the hands of a city, municipality or town), they have no official role in such proceedings.
However, in 1998 the federal government decided to provide incentives to any state that passed open alcohol container prohibitions. These incentives are given through the federal government’s Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. But states cannot just pass any open alcohol container prohibition that they want. In order to receive such incentives from the federal government (such as road funding), states must meet six criteria including: prohibiting all open alcohol containers (wine, beer, spirits, etc.); prohibiting any open alcohol container in vehicles including consumption and possession; prohibiting any passenger from consuming alcohol in a vehicle; prohibiting anyone occupying a motor vehicle from consuming/possessing alcohol; ensuring these laws apply to all public highways and right of ways (on the shoulders); allowing police officers to enforce any open alcohol container law without regard to any other violation.
If a state chooses not to participate in TEA-21 a percentage of their roadway funds would be redirected to alcohol education programs each year.
What states participate in TEA-21?
Today there are 39 states that comply with TEA-21. This includes the District of Columbia. In Alaska, Louisiana, Tennessee and Wyoming, there are similar limitations to open alcohol containers in vehicles however these states don’t comply with TEA-21. Currently, there are seven states that allow the consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia and West Virginia. Although these states many not comply with TEA-21, it is important to note that local laws may prohibit open alcohol containers in vehicles. Yet local laws do not have any effect on a state’s compliance or non-compliance with TEA-21.
There is one state that is “out on a limb” when open alcohol container laws are concerned, Mississippi. This is the only state that allows drivers to drink alcohol and operate a motor vehicle. As long as the driver’s blood alcohol content stays below the state’s legal limit of .08%, the open alcohol container laws do not apply in Mississippi.
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