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Does Tennessee drunk driving law allow passengers to imbibe?

Most states don't allow the presence of open containers of alcohol in a moving vehicle. Even if the container is empty, if it's found in the vehicle by authorities at the time of a stop, it could result in you being charged with an open container violation. That might be in addition to a charge of drunk driving.

Tennessee's law regarding this subject is quite specific. It states that, "No driver shall consume any alcoholic beverage or beer or possess an open container," while operating a motor vehicle. It might seem clear from that language that any open container could result in a drunk driving charge, the letter of the law has been interpreted in such a way that it creates a loophole for passenger drinking.

Efforts to close that hole have not fared well in the past, but another effort is underway at the state capitol this year. This time, supporters of the measure believe repeal of the so-called "pass-the-bottle" rule might occur.

Advocates of the measure say the state's refusal to ban open containers for vehicle passengers is costing Tennessee some $18 million in federal money that could be put to improving state roads. Inspired by that incentive, the governor has been pushing for an end to the pass-the-bottle rule. However, because the overall plan for road funding is running into opposition, it's not clear that repeal will occur.

So, to answer the question posed at the start of this post, for the time being, the open container law applies only to the driver. Though it should be noted that some local municipalities might have ordinances against passing the bottle.

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