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Every two minutes in the United States, a person is hurt in an accident involving a drunk driver. Once a day, 28 people die due to drunk drivers. On average, 67% of people will be involved in a car accident where alcohol was a factor during their lifetime. These statistics, courtesy of the NHTSA, help illustrate the terrible reality of drunk driving car accidents nationwide.

Closer to home, the state of South Carolina saw 812 traffic fatalities on its roads during 2014, many of which involved drunk drivers. South Carolina, that same year, was named the worst state for impaired driving by the activist and awareness group MADD.

In order to combat these terrible statistics and work to save lives on the roadways of South Carolina, legislation known as Emma’s Law was passed in 2014 and went into effect on October 1. This law has helped to reduce the number of drunk driving fatalities in the years since – but who is Emma?

Who was Emma Longstreet?

Like many other families who have been met with tragedy as the result of a drunk driver, the Longstreet family chose to honor their daughter’s memory by raising awareness of the problem of drunk driving on South Carolina roads. Though their daughter was gone forever, the Longstreets did not wish for a similar tragedy to befall anyone else. Their work laid the groundwork for what is today known as Emma’s Law.

What is Emma’s Law?

While Emma’s father was in recovery, healing from injuries sustained during the accident that took his daughter, he started the process of researching the drunk driving laws in South Carolina. When he did, he found that the laws were not clear enough and the punishments not severe enough to adequately address the issue of drunk driving in South Carolina. Soon, he was speaking to state lawmakers and others, and with their help, began to push a new law.

Today, we know this piece of legislation as “Emma’s Law,” and while everyone should understand its implications, it does not apply to everyone. Emma’s Law does not apply to you if you fit one of the following descriptions:

  • If you were charged with DUI in South Carolina prior to October 1, 2014.
  • If you were charged with DUI in South Carolina after this date, but haven’t been convicted.
  • If you blew a 0.14 or lower on a breathalyzer and were charged with DUI.
  • If you had your license suspended for refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

Those Convicted of a DUI after Getting 0.15 or Higher on a Breathalyzer

For a driver who is convicted (not merely charged) with a DUI in South Carolina after blowing at least a 0.15 on a breathalyzer test, there are some additional steps to be taken in order to follow Emma’s Law. First, these people are required to install an ignition interlock device. This device, which is installed in a DUI offender’s vehicle, requires the driver to pass a breath test before the car will start. After the device is installed, the person must demonstrate to state authorities that it has been installed properly. In addition, the offender must get an ignition interlock restriction on their South Carolina driver’s license. This license restricts the driver from operating any vehicle except their own and mandates that the ignition interlock device be in place. Finally, the offender must obtain and install this device using their own funds, which is not inexpensive.

The ignition interlock device is mandatory for the next six months. However, this does not imply that someone convicted of a DUI in South Carolina can refuse to install the device and instead simply not drive at all for six months. The device must be installed, and must remain in place for six months. The six-month period begins from the date the ignition interlock is installed, not the date of conviction. If the offender does not install the device for four months following their conviction (and does not drive), the six-month period begins at the end of those initial four months. There is, unfortunately, no way for a DUI offender to escape the six-month ignition interlock period.

Those Who Are Convicted of DUI after Refusing a Breathalyzer Test

Simply refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test will not ensure a DUI conviction or an ignition interlock device. However, refusing a breathalyzer will result in a mandatory license suspension for a period of six months. Those who take the breathalyzer and blow at least a 0.15 will have to install an ignition interlock device following a conviction, but they will retain the ability to drive for those six months – those who refuse the test may not be able to drive at all.

Those Convicted of a DUI after Blowing 0.14 or Below

Blowing lower than a 0.15 (but above the legal limit) on a breathalyzer test carries penalties similar to refusing to take the test. There is a mandatory license suspension for six months – however, in this case, the offender has the ability to apply for a provisional license. A provisional license is a restricted license which allows the person to drive only under certain specific circumstances, such as transportation to work, medical appointments, and other necessary trips.

All of the consequences listed above pertain only to first offenses of driving under the influence. For second and subsequent offenses, the punishments become more severe, including longer periods of jail time, higher fines, and additional restrictions. Emma’s Law particularly increased the severity of punishment for second, third, and fourth offenses of DUI in the state of South Carolina, with a conviction potentially carrying a fine of $10,000, and a jail term of up to six months for repeat offenders

There are some other changes which Emma’s Law caused, but these changes only apply to a small set of circumstances, such as a person convicted of a DUI who does not own a vehicle. These changes to the South Carolina DUI laws are expected to have continuing positive effects on the rate of DUI-related car accidents. Unfortunately, however, it cannot stop these incidents entirely. Accidents involving alcohol will continue to occur in South Carolina and elsewhere, so if you have been injured in a DUI car accident, contact an experienced attorney today.

Why Emma’s Law Changes the Penalties for Drunk Driving

The major difference that Emma’s Law makes to DUI cases is the requirement of ignition interlock devices after a DUI conviction. Evidence shows that when these devices are put into consistent use, incidents of drunk driving and injuries and deaths are greatly reduced. The interlock device is a miniature version of a breathalyzer test which is affixed to a vehicle’s dashboard. A driver attempting to start the car will need to blow into the device before the ignition functions. If any alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start.

In other states where similar laws have been passed, such as Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and Louisiana, up to 45% reduction in drunk driving deaths has been reported. These numbers sound hopeful for the effectiveness of Emma’s Law in South Carolina – so, three years later, how is this new law working to protect individuals and families from drunk drivers on South Carolina roadways?

Is Emma’s Law Working in South Carolina?

Since it went into effect in October of 2014, there are only a few years worth of data to be analyzed. Unfortunately, early results are not looking very good for South Carolina. Often, DUI offenders are able to obtain plea bargains to have their charges reduced to lesser crimes, and avoiding a DUI conviction and, therefore, eliminating the effect that Emma’s Law would have. A number of recommendations have been suggested for ways to improve DUI law in South Carolina, including Emma’s Law, in order to make it easier to prosecute and convict DUI offenders.

Emma’s Law also increases the severity of punishments for repeat offenders, and so in this way, over a period of a few years, it may be possible to see an effect on reducing the number of second, third, and subsequent instances of driving under the influence. In most cases, new legislation like Emma’s Law takes a period of five to 10 years before its total effects begin to show, and adjustments and amendments can be enacted to make these laws better.

The Dangers of Drunk Driving in South Carolina

Regardless of the law or severity of punishment, drinking and driving is not something that anyone should ever do. In South Carolina, over 40% of fatal accidents as recently as 2013 were found to be related to alcohol, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there were nearly 4,000 drunk-driving related deaths in the state of South Carolina in the ten years spanning 2003-2012. Nearly 2% of adults nationwide say that they have driven after having too much to drink at least once in the past month.

These statistics represent a larger problem with drinking and driving in our state. However, everyone makes mistakes. If you find yourself behind the wheel after having a few drinks and you get pulled over, you still deserve fair representation under the law to ensure your rights are protected. No one should have to face a trial without a legal advocate who is well versed in South Carolina DUI law and all the intricacies that comes with it. Let an experienced DUI attorney represent your interests in court to see if the charges placed against you are unfair or if they should be reduced based on your circumstances.

Reach Out to an Experienced DUI Attorney to Discuss Your Case

While Emma’s Law is something that has saved lives, it could spell big trouble for those accused of drunk driving with poor evidence to back it up. You should not have to face these harsh penalties if there was an error or flaw in your case that could get it thrown out. If this sounds like your situation, then do not hesitate to call a South Carolina DUI lawyer. It can be easy to think that you could just represent yourself in the court of law when it comes to your case. But a legal representative could be the difference between you facing license suspension and severe fines or you getting your charges reduced. Since we know the law, we can review your case under the lens of hundreds of other similar cases to yours. With that knowledge, we can find ways to have your charges reduced or completely dropped if there is enough evidence that works in your favor. In addition, you may consider going with a public defender for your case. While public defenders are hard-working, they also carry the burden of working with a number of clients at once. Depending on their workload, some public defenders will only have mere minutes to review your case and try to find a solid defense for you, which is not the case with our experienced DUI lawyers. We understand how stressful this situation is for you. When your well-being, quality of life, and finances are on the line, you do not want to be just another number in a pile of other Charleston, South Carolina criminal defense cases. That is why we provide you and your case with the individual attention it deserves to ensure you get the best possible outcome.