Starting October 1st, South Carolina will change how it penalizes Driving Under the Influence (D.U.I.) and Driving with Unlawful Alcohol Concentration (D.U.A.C.) convictions. On April 30, 2014, Governor Nikki Haley signed Senate Bill 137, affectionately known as “Emma’s Law.” The law, named after 6-year-old Emma Longstreet who was tragically killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver on New Years Day of 2012, enforces stricter penalties against drunk drivers and will require more people convicted of driving under the influence to install a breath alcohol ignition interlock in their vehicles.
A breath alcohol ignition interlock, more commonly referred to as an interlocking device, is a mechanism, like a Breathalyzer, installed on a motor vehicle’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver first must exhale into the device. The interlocking device then analyzes the breath of the driver and if the resultant breath-alcohol concentration is greater than the programmed limit, the device prevents the engine from being started.
Under Emma’s Law, any person with a first conviction of D.U.I. (56-5-2930), D.U.A.C. (56-5-2933), Felony D.U.I. (56-5-2945), or a similar law in another state that is determined to be driving with a blood alcohol concentration (B.A.C.) of 0.15 or greater will be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on any motor vehicle the person drives, whether the person owns the vehicle or not. This device will initially remain in the car for a period of six months. In addition, a first time offender with a B.A.C. of 0.08 to 0.14 may elect to use an interlocking device in order to drive with no geographic restrictions in lieu of a license suspension. Emma’s Law does not apply to any person who is convicted for D.U.I. or D.U.A.C. that didn’t submit to a breath test.
A person who is required to use an interlocking device under Emma’s Law also becomes subject to a complex system of points and penalties known as the Ignition Interlock Device Point System. As a person uses the interlocking device, different records are kept regarding its use, including the B.A.C. values that the person blows, whether or not the person complied with all required breath tests, and whether the device was tampered with. These records are collected every sixty days, and if there are any violations, the person is assessed an amount of Ignition Interlock Device Points. This is similar to the point system currently in place for traffic violations. Numerous things can constitute a violation and result in an assessment of points. Examples of violations include when the user blows over a certain threshold or doesn’t blow when required. Accumulating too many Ignition Interlock Device Points can result in an extension of the time that the device must be installed or even a suspension of the person’s license for six months. As a result, it is important that any person required to use an interlocking device know and comply with all the rules relating to the device’s use to avoid any future penalties.
The passage of Emma’s Law marks another step by South Carolina lawmakers to crack down on drunk drivers and protect people from drunk driving accidents. Other states that have instituted similar laws such as Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and Louisiana have seen a significant decrease in the amount of deaths related to drunk driving.
If you or someone you know has been accused of driving while intoxicated or injured by a drunk driver, or if you would like additional information on Emma’s Law, please contact the Gruenloh Law Firm at (843) 577-0027 for a free consultation.