Emma’s Law Should Be Saving More Lives. What’s Gone Wrong?

Emma Longstreet
Emma Longstreet, whose death in 2012 became a cause in South Carolina

It’s not enough to get good anti-drunk driving laws passed. You’ve got to keep watch on the system and make sure the laws are working as they are meant to. That’s the sad lesson that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) learned when it examined how South Carolina was enforcing Emma’s Law. The results are in the organization’s Court Monitoring Annual Report.

It was back in 2014 that the state passed Emma’s Law, which requires all persons convicted of drunk driving offenses to install an ignition interlock device, a car breathalyzer which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Emma’s Law was named after Emma Longstreet, a six-year-old girl who was killed by a drunk driver on New Year’s Day in 2012. The parents lobbied for the law. Currently 30 states have all-offender ignition interlock laws, and they have helped prevent DUI offenders from re-offending.

However, MADD found that in South Carolina it is far too difficult to prosecute drunk drivers. In particular, offenders are allowed to plead down their DUI to a reckless driving charge, which carries no ignition interlock requirement. Drunk drivers are able to evade an extremely effective anti-drunk driving measures.

How to Fix a Broken System

The organization found other problems too. The state’s statutes require that dash cam video be part of the evidence in all cases, so if the camera malfunctions the case automatically goes out the window. In addition, police officers prosecute their own cases, which is unheard of in other states.

The report makes five recommendations:

  • Allow other evidence if there are video problems
  • Encourage more prosecution and less pleading down of DUI cases to keep the public safe
  • Discourage police officers from prosecuting cases and let them get on with the job they are trained for
  • Strengthen Emma’s Law so that all convicted DUI offenders are put on the Ignition Interlock Program
  • Encourage public observation of final determinations of cases, instead of having them submitted out of public view

Good recommendations all. In particular, the MADD report calls ignition interlocks “the most effective available approach to reducing repeat [drunk driving] offenses. We encourage South Carolina to build on the work that Emma Longstreet’s parents, public safety advocates, and state legislators did to make roads and streets safer for everyone.