SC House panel backs get-tough DUI bill

jmonk@thestate.comMarch 25, 2014 

— A stronger version of Emma’s Law on Tuesday passed the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

The next stop for the get-tough-on-DUIs bill: the House floor. All 124 members will vote on it. That could happen as early as next week.

Just before the vote, committee member Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, reminded lawmakers that innocent South Carolinians continue to die at the hands of drunken drivers.

“Every weekend, there’s another tragedy,” Quinn said. “In Cherokee last weekend, there was a 19-year-old boy who killed a mother and her daughter.”

South Carolina has one of the nation’s highest death tolls from drunken drivers. In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, 358 South Carolinians died at the hands of drunken drivers.

Tuesday’s final vote by 22 House Judiciary members was 22-0.

Main features of this latest version of Emma’s Law would:

•  Require drivers who blow a 0.15 on a Breathalyzer and who later are convicted of, or who plead guilty to, first-offense driving under the influence of alcohol to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicles for a year. The device won’t let someone drive a car if he has been drinking.

•  Require DUI first-offenders who refuse to be tested on a Breathalyzer after being stopped, and who are later found guilty of first-offense DUI, to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. No provisional licenses will be granted to people who refuse a Breathalyzer test and who later are convicted.

•  Close loopholes that would have made it much easier for people convicted of drunken driving to get back – by having their lawyers mount various appeals – on the road without having to use an ignition interlock device.

Studies have shown where ignition interlocks are in widespread use, DUI-related fatalities drop significantly, according to studies analyzed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 20 states require ignition interlocks on first-offense DUI if the offender blows 0.08 on a Breathalyzer, and 15 others require ignition interlocks on first offense at a 0.15 level, according to bill supporter Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Victims’ Council.

In South Carolina, ignition interlocks are now in use, but only for multiple DUI offenders. Some 700-plus are now in use, according to the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

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