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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
Background
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
Conclusions
Acknowledgments
References 
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. 

Table 1.
Summary of Previous Open Container Laws in the First Four States 
to Enact Laws to Conform with TEA-21 Requirements
State Possession & Consumption Passenger Area All Alcoholic Beverages All Occupants All Public Highways Primary Enforcement
Iowa no no yes no yes yes
Maine no no yes no no yes
Rhode Island no no yes no yes yes
South Dakota yes yes no yes no yes

Enforcement of the new conforming laws began on 1 July 1999 in Iowa and South Dakota, on 1 October in Maine, and on 1 January 2000 in Rhode Island. Data were obtained from agencies of the four states to identify effects on traffic safety that might be attributable to changes in the states’ Open Container laws. The hypothesis of the evaluation is that conformance with the Federal requirements is associated with a lower incidence of alcohol-involved crashes. 

Figure 1 presents the proportions of all fatal crashes that were alcohol-involved in the four states during the six-month periods following the beginning of enforcement of the states’ conforming laws, compared to data from the same six-month periods in the previous year. The figure suggests that the alcohol-involved proportion of fatal crashes in three of the four states was lower during the first six months following enforcement of conforming Open Container laws.7 Iowa had no apparent change; however, the apparent change observed in the other three states is in the direction expected if the laws had an impact; however, the declines were not statistically significant (z test at 0.05).