Ignition interlock debate heats up in South Carolina

Ignition InterlockA battle is heating up within the House Judiciary Committee of South Carolina right now. Emma’s Law, a bill that will require first time DUI offenders who are convicted of DUI with a blood alcohol level of .15 or greater or who plead guilty to driving under the influence, is ready to push the use of ignition interlock devices for first offenders. Ignition interlocks are currently used for repeat DUI offenders in over 21 states including South Carolina, but not all states require them for first offenders.

Emma’s Law is named after Emma Longstreet, a 6-year-old girl who died in a New Year’s Day crash in 2012. Her family’s minivan was struck by a drinking driver who had been out all night long drinking and was still intoxicated at 11 am. Authorities stated that the driver, a second time DUI offender with his first arrest in 2009, had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit of .08 even though he had stopped drinking hours before. The Longstreet family has also filed a lawsuit against two local bars that they state over-served the man before the crash.

The original version of Emma’s Law requires anyone convicted with a blood alcohol content of .12 or higher to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle for a period of six months, but an amended version changed the BAC requirement to .15. The amendment has concerned local safety activists who fear the higher limit will allow more drinking drivers to evade the ignition interlock requirement.

Out of all 50 states, South Carolina ranks seventh in deaths related to driving under the influence. In 2012 alone there were 358 DUI related deaths, and from July 2012 to June 2013 there were 30,000 DUI cases brought to courts in South Carolina.