South Carolina: Going Beyond Emma’s Law to Save Lives

Emma's Law in South Carolina
Emma Longstreet of Emma’s Law

Public safety advocates say that too many drunk drivers are on South Carolina’s roads.

Drunk driving law changed in South Carolina back in April of 2014, when Emma’s Law passed. The law, named after a six-year-old victim of a drunk driver, requires convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or more (about twice the legal limit) to install an ignition interlock device, which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The law is a good one. So why do news reports tell us that 2000 people in the state have been arrested this year for DUI?

There is more depressing news. The most recent NHTSA report on motor vehicle crashes found that South Carolina’s number of alcohol-related road fatalities had risen last year, and the percentage of road deaths that involved alcohol had risen to 33 percent, while the national average had dipped to 28 percent.

A Better Ignition Interlock Law

Emma’s Law was an important step for South Carolina. The law was an acknowledgement that technology was needed to prevent drunk driving recidivism. But according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and others, the law is not thorough enough. Currently 30 states have laws which mandate the interlock devices for offenders with a BAC of .08 or more. Those laws are known to reduce DUI recidivism and alcohol-related traffic deaths.

Senate Bill 982, which is now being debated in the legislature, would extend the ignition interlock to all offenders. It needs the support of all South Carolinians.

Better Enforcement of the Interlock Law

Ignition interlocks work to defeat drunk driving – if they are installed. Unfortunately, as soon as Emma’s Law went into effect, it was undermined by plea bargains.

A MADD report on South Carolina courts found that the interlock became a bargaining chip during trials – attorneys would engage in horse-trading to help offenders get out of the interlock requirement.

South Carolina knows what needs to be done to reduce the death and injury toll on its roads.

  • Pass S 982, which requires all drunk driving offenders, not just high-BAC offenders, to use ignition interlock
  • Offenders must not evade the requirement in court. To that end, MADD has advocated for more open and visible trials, so that citizens can see that justice is being done

Emma’s Law was a milestone in South Carolina’s fight against drunk driving. But it wasn’t the end of the road. Senate Bill 982 will take the state farther along toward the goal of zero victims.