Mike Kueber's Blog

June 6, 2011

Open-container laws – a primer

In cars

Ever since moving to Texas in 1987, I have been fascinated by open-container laws.  Life in Texas seemed so refreshingly open after spending my first 22 years in straight-laced North Dakota, where a person would go to a liquor store to buy alcohol.  And don’t even consider looking for alcohol on a Sunday.  By contrast, Texas allowed you to buy beer at a grocery store and even on Sunday if you waited until noon.  For a libertarian like me, Texas was heaven on earth.

But then big government stuck their nose into our affairs and said that states would be denied their highway money if they continued to allow open containers in cars.  This law was called the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), and it was passed by Congress in 1998.
I still remember hearing a senator from my home state of North Dakota reporting to his incredulous voters that he could legally drive from
Washington, D.C. to Texas with beer in his car.  My first thought was, “So what?”  My second thought was, “What’s it to you?”

Because Texas was unwilling to buck the federal government and lose all that highway money (actually the money would be redirected toward an alcohol-awareness campaign), Texas capitulated and made open containers illegal.  Fortunately, TEA-21 expired in 2003, and open-containers laws are in retreat.  Currently one state (Mississippi) allows a driver and passengers to have an open container and eight others (Arkansas,
Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) allow passengers to have an open container.

Driving while under the influence is America’s problem; not driving while drinking.

Come on Texas; what are you waiting for?

On the streets

I had never experienced open-containers on public streets until I traveled to Progresso, a Mexican border town in the Valley.  The experience was wonderful – I loved to shop the markets while drinking a frozen strawberry margarita.  Of course, that aspect of the trip made it seem all the more exotic.

Then a few years ago, I made my first trip to New Orleans and discovered that hurricanes and frozen margaritas were allowed on the streets there, too.  Once again, the experience was wonderful and it left me with the sense of having visiting an exotic location.

A couple of weeks ago in St. Louis, my son Mikey was telling me about a trip that he took to Memphis, and he reported that he had a great time on Beale Street, partly because he was able to walk around with a drink.  That sounded so interesting that I almost detoured to Memphis on my way back to San Antonio, and I am much more likely to visit there in the future.

For future reference, I decided to find out whether there are any other cities like Memphis or New Orleans.  According to Wikipedia, all but seven states prohibit open-containers on streets – the lucky seven are Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Unfortunately, nearly all of the cities in those states outlaw open-containers.  But there are a few exceptions – in addition to Memphis and New Orleans, there is Las Vegas, NV; Butte, MT; Power & Light District of Kansas City, MO; the Savannah Historic District in Savanna, GA; and the Main Street Shopping District of Fredericksburg, TX.

Come on, San Antonio; what are you waiting for?