drinking and driving

In 2012, six-year-old Emma Longstreet was killed when a drunk driver hit her on New Year’s Day. In the aftermath of the accident, the young girl’s parents fought tirelessly to change the legislation regarding the punishments and penalties for drunk drivers in South Carolina.

In 2014, the Longstreets succeeded. Legislation, known as Emma’s Law, that expands the punishment for a DUI conviction was passed and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley. The legislation was overwhelmingly supported in state.

A year later, a pressing question for skeptics and supporters alike remains: has the law had any impact on drinking and driving in South Carolina? Has the number of alcohol-related car accidents been reduced?

What is Emma’s Law?

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Emma’s Law expands the punishments for all convicted drunk drivers. Some highlights of the law include:

  • First-time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.15 percent or higher will automatically be required to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles for a minimum of six months.
  • First-time offenders with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.14 may choose to either have their licenses suspended or have an interlock ignition device installed.
  • Repeat offenders with a BAC of 0.08 or higher will automatically be required to install ignition interlock devices.

The specifics of this law can be found in the text of the actual law itself, South Carolina Bill A158, R166, S137. The law does not change other penalties for drinking and driving – incarceration times and fines remain the same.

Why the Change in Drunk Driving Penalties?

Interlock devices require the driver to blow into them before the car will start. If any alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. Evidence has shown that when interlock ignition devices are used, drunk driving and drunk driving-related deaths are reduced.

According to MADD, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Arizona have seen between a 33 to 46 percent reduction in drunk driving-related deaths due to the use of interlock ignition devices.

Is Emma’s Law Working?

Emma’s Law was passed in mid-2014. As such, it can be assumed that the law had little, if any, effect on the number of alcohol-related crashes that year. According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, there were 685 fatal crashes reported in 2014. And according to another report by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, 208 of these were alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.

In 2015, the numbers are still preliminary, and the state has yet to record data for two of the most dangerous times of the year for drunk drivers: Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That being said, the numbers do not look good so far. While there were 685 fatal crashes in 2014, the state has already recorded 798 fatal crashes this year. Data is not currently available on how many of those were related to alcohol. Unfortunately, however, the holidays are one of the most dangerous times for drivers, as the prevalence of drinking and driving is often high.

However, that is not to say that Emma’s Law is not working or will not work in the future. Because the law targets repeat offenders, it may take some time to actually have an effect. When legislation is passed, viewing its effects five or 10 years later is often the most telling.

The Dangers of Drinking and Driving

The dangers of drinking and driving are clear. In 2013, alcohol-related crashes accounted for 44 percent of fatal accidents in the state, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a total of 3,870 impaired driver-related deaths in South Carolina from the years 2003 through 2012. Nationally, the rate of adults who have reported driving after drinking too much at least once in the last 30 days is 1.9 percent. In South Carolina, the rate is only slightly lower, at 1.6 percent.

When a drunk driver causes an accident, the results can be devastating. As seen in the case of Emma Longstreet, a young girl lost her life because a person chose to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol. But it is not just death that can befall a victim of a drunk driving accident. Severe spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, head injuries, broken bones, amputation injuries, and more can all occur as well.

Protect Yourself from Injuries and Criminal Penalties this Year

The holiday season is upon us. But whether it is December or June, commit to driving sober every time that you get behind the wheel. You can join MADD’s Tie One on for Safety campaign to raise awareness about drinking and driving, or simply promise yourself to always drive sober.

If you do not, you may face harsh criminal penalties under South Carolina’s laws, including Emma’s Law. At worst, you may experience the dangers of drinking and driving firsthand, causing an accident that results in injuries to yourself or to another.

When Drunk Driving Causes an Accident, Call at Attorney

With time, the hope is that South Carolina will begin to see a noticeable positive effect as a result of Emma’s Law. However, eradicating drunk drivers from the streets entirely will take time.

If you are involved in an accident with a drunk driver in South Carolina, do not wait to reach out to an attorney. The experienced South Carolina car accident attorneys at Joye Law Firm can help you understand what you need to know, determine whether you have a claim, and help you understand what compensation may be available for your losses.

When you need an advocate whom you can trust after a car accident, our team is ready to help. Do not wait any longer to get in touch. Call us or contact us online for a free case consultation today.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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