History and Administration
The open container provision was initially authorized under the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA-21) and reauthorized under several subsequent surface transportation bills, most recently the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was signed into law in 2021. This provision is jointly administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
This provision encourages states to enact an open container law. Although originally a transfer program, subsequent legislation amended the penalty provisions that apply to non-compliant states. Under current law, noncompliance results in reservation of the funds rather than an immediate transfer to other programs.
This provision requires states to enact and enforce a law that prohibits the possession of any open alcohol beverage container, or the consumption of any alcoholic beverage, in the passenger area of any motor vehicle located on a public highway, or the right-of-way of a public highway, in the states. States that fail to comply with these minimum requirements have a portion of their highway funds reserved.
NHTSA and FHWA jointly published a Final Rule in February, 2019 governing Section 154 and 164 to implement the changes made to this program by the FAST Act.
A noncompliant state may elect to use all or a portion of the reserved funds for alcohol-impaired driving programs as restricted to the Section 402 program and for Highway Safety Improvement Program activities under Section 148 activities to the state Department of Transportation. If the state does so, then the funds are transferred from FHWA directly to the state Department of Transportation for the administration of those funds. SHSOs will no longer be required to track HSIP expenditures in that case.
In Fiscal Year 2012 and every year thereafter, if a state is not in compliance with the open container penalty provisions, then 2.5% of the National Highway System Performance Plan and the Surface Transportation Program funds are reserved in the subsequent fiscal year.
For exact dollar amounts, funding charts by fiscal year can be found on the Federal Grant Programs page under "Highway Safety Funding."