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Open Container Laws And
Alcohol Involved Crashes

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DOT HS 809 426

Some Preliminary Data

April 2002

Technical Documentation Page
Executive Summary
Purpose of Section 154
Open Container Law Incentives
Open Container Law Conformance Criteria
Status of Conformance: October 2000
Evaluation of the Effects of Open Container Laws

Public Opinion Concerning Open Container Laws
Appendix A: Data Tables

Table 1: Summary of Previous Open Container Laws In the First Four States to Enact Laws to Conform with TEA-21 Requirements

Figure 1: Percent of All Fatal Crashes That Were Alcohol-Involved: Six-Month Period After Enforcement Began Compared to the Same Period in the Previous Year

Figure 2: Nighttime Hit-and-Run Crashes: Six-Month Period After Enforcement Began Compared to the Same Period in the Previous Year

Figure 3: Percent of All Fatal Crashes That Were Alcohol-Involved

Figure 4: Percent of Residents Who Believe Their States Should Have An Open Container Law


This report presents the results of a study conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to assess the highway safety effects of laws that prohibit open containers of alcoholic beverages to be located in the passenger compartment of motor vehicles operated on public roadways. These laws are commonly referred to as Open Container laws. 

Comparisons Among States That Had Conforming Laws Prior to TEA-21, States that Enacted Conforming Laws by October 1, 2000, States With Partially-Conforming Laws by October 1, 2000, And States With No Open Container Laws by October 1, 2000 

The previous section compared measures of traffic safety before and after changes to Open Container laws took effect in the four states that enacted TEA-21 conforming legislation in 1999. Another method for assessing the effects of Open Container laws is to compare traffic safety data from states that had conforming laws prior to the amendment of the TEA-21 Restoration Act to data from other states, including states that adopted fully conforming laws, states with only partially-conforming laws, and states with no Open Container laws at all, as of October 1, 2000. 

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia had laws that conformed fully with the Federal Standard prior to July 22, 1998, when the Section 154 program was established by the TEA-21 Restoration Act. Seventeen states amended their laws to become fully conforming between July 1998 and October 2000; the first four of those states to amend their laws were the subjects of the previous analysis. Twenty states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico had not amended their laws to conform to the Federal Standard by October 2000. Seventeen of those states had partially-conforming laws; three of those states (CT, MS, WY) and Puerto Rico had no Open Container laws at all. 

Figure 3 shows the percentages of alcohol-involved fatal crashes during 1999 in the four categories: 1) States with Open Container laws that conformed fully to the Federal requirements prior to July 22, 1998 (13 states and the District of Columbia); 2) States that became fully-conforming by October 1, 2000 (17 states); 3) States with laws that did not fully conform by October 2000 (17 states); and 4) States with no Open Container laws at all as of October 1, 2000 (three states and Puerto Rico).