South Carolina drivers may soon be facing one of the strictest DUI laws in the nation. Emma’s Law, a recently proposed DUI law, unanimously passed the State’s House and is expected to become law.  After a hard-fought and lengthy battle, the bill’s proponents are celebrating a bittersweet victory in light of the bill’s namesake.

Named after Emma Longstreet, Emma’s Law has been backed by Karen and David Longstreet following the death of their daughter.  In 2012, the Longstreet family car was struck by a drunk driver, killing Emma, aged 6.  The drunk driver was a repeat offender, something that the Longstreets kept in mind while lobbying for the bill.  After the tragedy, the Longstreet family contacted state lawmakers, beginning the journey for Emma’s Law.

The proposed law focuses on first time DUI offenders with the hope of preventing those drivers from becoming repeat offenders. Many states have repeat offender laws that increase penalties with each conviction subsequent to first.  Unlike these repeat offender laws, Emma’s Law would create a harsh penalty for first time offenders.

Under the proposal, an offender with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.15% or more would face the requirement to install and use an ignition interlock on their vehicle for six months after regaining their driver’s license. An ignition interlock device works like a breathalyzer, and is designed to prevent the driver from operating the vehicle while impaired or intoxicated. Legally speaking, “impairment” and “intoxication” are terms that relate to how high a person’s BAC is. An ignition interlock device prevents impaired or intoxicated driving by requiring the driver to blow into it before being able to start the engine. If the device detects any level of alcohol in the driver’s breath (not just what would legally be considering impairing for DUI purposes) the vehicle’s engine will not start.

Currently, South Carolina’s DUI laws are fairly lax in contrast with the newly proposed law. The current DUI laws have several legal loopholes that allow defendants to delay trial and eventually avoid harsh penalties.  One consequence of these loopholes is that many drivers, even after they are convicted of a DUI, are back on the roads quickly after the conviction.  Officials estimate that approximately 30,000 DUI arrests are made annually in the state. With such high arrest figures, it is likely that if Emma’s Law passes, it will affect a great many of these drivers.

Emma’s Law will now go to the State Senate.  If it passes in that house, as expected, the Governor will have the final decision whether or not to sign it into law.  If Emma’s Law does in fact become law, it will be among the toughest first time DUI offender laws in the country.  Floor Leader Rep. Rick Quinn (R-Lexington), who has been pushing the bill, expects the Governor to sign it. Regarding the proposed law change, Rep. Quinn hassaid, “It’s a wonderful feeling, but a sad feeling too – if we had done this three-four years ago, how many people could have been saved. Every state that has done this has seen a reduction in DUI fatalities.”

For more on Emma’s Law, click here.

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