Missourians pay the price to have open alcohol in vehicles

The Missouri Department of Transportation has given up roughly $370 million in construction funds since 2001 for failing to comply with federal policies. This price for Missouri drivers to have open alcohol in vehicles accounted for around 2.5% of the budget yearly.

When it comes to having alcohol in a car, Missouri does not have many rules, and that has the state paying the price for a lack of regulation.

According to an investigation by KCUR in Kansas City, the Missouri Department of Transportation has given up roughly $370 million in construction funds since 2001 for failing to comply with federal policies.

Statewide, Missouri has no regulation prohibiting open containers of alcohol in vehicles, although such rules can be in place in individual cities and counties. Because there is no statewide regulation in place, Missouri is missing out on an estimated 2.5% of its construction budget in funding yearly.

There are, however, strict laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol while operating a vehicle. Sgt. Jake Angle with Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H said if officers stop a driver and see open alcohol, they will begin asking questions.

“It’s gonna make you investigate further. I mean, you know, is that person impaired? Is someone in the vehicle, a minor? Things like that. Obviously, there’s going to be some further investigation,” Angle said. “We see that — alcoholic beverages and vehicles — it’s not uncommon to see that, but yeah, it warrants further investigation to see if there’s a violation present.”

Due to the lack of an open container regulation, money that could be going to road construction and repairs instead must go to installing safety features like rumble strips, guardrails and reflective center lines rather than projects like paving roadways.

“It’s an interesting dilemma, because it does take money away from what I’ll call our everyday road and bridge projects,” said Jon Nelson, assistant to the state highway safety and traffic engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation. “But it does still get spent on the roadway through those safety improvements.”

“Flashing lights, reflective material, maybe down the center stripe or things like that, anything that aids a driver and getting their attention, like maybe there’s a hazardous curve coming up, or an error, or an intersection,” Angle said. “Obviously, that’s a good thing. Anything that can assist a driver out there on the roadway to be a better driver or be a safer driver is a good thing.”

Missouri does have a few exceptions, including an ordinance in Maryville. City officials have put their own restrictions on open beverages in vehicles that differ from the state. If an officer stops a vehicle in city limits, any open alcoholic drink is considered to be in possession of the driver and that person can be charged.

Angle said people can stay safe by keeping open alcohol containers far away from any operation of vehicles.

“Driving is a full-time job that takes 100% of your attention. When you start talking about driving impaired, you lose your coordination, your ability to do multiple tasks at once, and all those things are pretty critical,” Angle said.

Morgan Riddell can be reached at morgan.riddell@newspressnow.com

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