Holidays are open season for open container laws

November 26, 2002

With the December holiday season quickly approaching, law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia are gearing up for the longest ever You Drink Drive. You Lose. campaign national crackdown on drunk driving. From December 20, 2002 to January 5, 2003 law enforcement will increase the use of sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols to enforce laws like open-container laws, which according to a new study in the December 2002 Annals of Emergency Medicine, are effective at preventing alcohol-related crashes. (Open Container Laws and Alcohol-Involved Crashes, p. 648)

The analysis conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that states without open-container laws experience significantly more alcohol-involved fatal crashes than states with laws that either partially or fully conform to federal guidelines.

In addition, NHTSA's evaluation of the effectiveness of the law in four states--Iowa, Maine, Rhode Island, and South Dakota--that passed legislation in 1999 following enactment of the federal law, Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), found a decline in alcohol-involved crashes in three out of four states during the first six months after its enforcement. NHTSA's 1999 national survey on drinking and driving revealed that a substantial majority of the general public supports open-container laws, even in states without such laws, noted Phillip Brewer, MD, of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., who wrote the related commentary on NHTSA's analysis of this law.

Since four of every 10 people killed on the highways are killed in crashes where alcohol was involved, and since vehicle trauma remains the number one cause of death for people ages one to 34, Dr. Brewer called on emergency physicians who treat the victims of drunk driving to advocate for better laws in their states. Especially during the holiday season when these deaths peak, Dr. Brewer stressed the value of educating state representatives and senators about the life-saving benefits of stronger laws.

"It just doesn't make sense that there are 14 hold-out states without open-container laws," said Dr. Brewer. "There is no debating the science. Enacting open-container and primary seat belt laws are both prime examples of common-sense legislation that most people support and are proven to prevent the tragic loss of life."

American College of Emergency Physicians

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