Emma’s Law: What Does It Mean For South Carolina Drivers?

Emma's Law passes SC House - Image Source - thestate.com

On Monday, Governor Nikki Haley signed an important piece of legislation into law that will lead to very real changes for those convicted of drunk driving in South Carolina. The measure, known as “Emma’s Law,” was passed by the legislature earlier this month and will dramatically expand the use of ignition interlock devices in the state.

Who’s Emma?

The recently passed measure is named after a six-year-old girl named Emma Longstreet. Emma tragically died back in 2012 when a drunk driver collided with her family’s vehicle. The man had a BAC several times the legal limit at the time of the crash. Emma’s family has since devoted their time and energy to supporting a measure aimed at ensuring other dangerous drivers are kept off the road.

What’s behind the push?

Though the Longstreet family fought hard to shepherd the current legislation through the South Carolina legislature, the measure is part of a broader national effort by some groups to dramatically increase the usage of ignition interlock devices. The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has said that it will focus much of its lobbying efforts on expanding the use of ignition interlock devices in states across the country. The group says that it has been proven effective to focus new legislative efforts on curtailing the actions of repeat offenders, whom they believe pose the biggest threat to public safety.

What does the law say? 

As it stands now, only repeat drunk driving offenders in South Carolina are required to install ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. As written, the law will now dramatically expand the use of ignition interlock devices by requiring all first time South Carolina DUI offenders with a BAC of 0.15 percent or greater (nearly twice the legal limit) to install the device on their vehicles for six months. Those convicted of a second drunk driving offense will be required to install the ignition interlock device for two years. Finally, the most severe restrictions are imposed on those convicted of four or more DUIs; these individuals will be required to use an ignition interlock device for life.

So what is an ignition interlock device?

Ignition interlock devices are instruments that function much like breathalyzers and are installed into the dashboard of vehicles. The machines measure the blood alcohol content of drivers and will only allow a car to start if the driver’s BAC is less than 0.02 percent (well below South Carolina’s 0.08 percent legal limit). The device is designed to prevent drivers from operating a vehicle while impaired. Though the devices have been shown to be work well when used properly, there have been reports of inaccurate readings and some instances where drivers bypass the device by having others blow into the machine, two things that ultimately compromise the effectiveness of the program.

What will it mean for South Carolina drivers?

Though the language of the law is already quite severe, it didn’t take long for some people to begin advocating for Emma’s law to be toughened, specifically, by lowering the BAC level required for first time offenders. It’s clear that the drive to increase use of ignition interlock devices will continue and, as legislators in the state respond to pressure from groups like MADD, motorists in the state should expect further efforts to punish those found driving while under the influence.

Charleston drunk driving lawyer David Aylor understands how scary and confusing important legal matters that threaten your freedom can be. If you or someone you know needs legal assistance, please contact an experienced lawyer who can guide you through the complexities of a South Carolina drunk driving case. For more information, call our office at 843-577-5530.

Source:Haley signs Emma’s Law to require more DUI locks on cars,” by Jeffrey Collins, published at TheState.com.