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Emma's Law in South Carolina

Emma's Law in South Carolina

| Jun 23, 2015

  • Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving accident.
  • Every day in the U.S., 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.
  • On average, two in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.

These sad, yet true, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration help illustrate the unfortunate realities of alcohol-related car crashes.

In South Carolina alone, there were 812 fatalities on the roads in 2014. While drunk driving was not the cause of all of these fatalities, South Carolina was named the worst state for drunk driving in 2014 by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

To combat these dreadful numbers and save the lives of future South Carolina drivers, Emma’s Law was passed last April. This law went into action on October 1, 2014. With this law in place, the number of fatalities due to drunk driving in South Carolina is expected to drop in 2015—saving countless lives.

As both experienced car accident attorneys and South Carolina residents ourselves, we believe it is very important that South Carolina residents understand Emma’s Law.

Who is Emma Longstreet?

On New Year’s Day in 2012, the Longstreet family was turning left onto Old Cherokee Road from U.S. Highway 378 while heading to Northside Baptist Church in Lexington, South Carolina that morning. This was the moment that the unthinkable happened and their lives were changed forever. It was in this moment that a drunk driver, barreling toward them, did not use his brakes and collided with the Longstreet family, leaving everyone involved injured, but alive—everyone except their 6-year-old daughter, Emma Katherine Longstreet. She was rushed to the hospital, only to pass away later that night. Immediately following her passing, Emma’s name was all over the news, not only in Lexington—but also across the whole state of South Carolina.

Like many families who have lost loved ones to a drunk driver, the Longstreets took this opportunity to raise awareness of the problems of drunk driving in South Carolina. They did not want to see what happened to Emma happen to anyone else. This is where they came up with the idea of Emma’s Law.

What is Emma’s Law?

While Emma’s father was recovering from the injuries that he sustained in the accident, he began to research South Carolina drunk driving laws. In his opinion, these laws and punishments were not severe enough to make an actual change in the amount of drunk driving fatalities in South Carolina. Backed by state senators and others, he began to push a new law, which would ultimately be referred to as “Emma’s Law.” This law was proposed in April 2014, and was put into action on October 1, 2014. It is in 2015, however, that South Carolina expects to see the biggest results from the change in these laws.

First, it is important to understand that Emma’s Law does not apply to everyone. It does not affect those who:

  • Were charged with a DUI before October 1, 2014.
  • Were charged after October 1, 2014, but have not been convicted.
  • Were charged with a DUI, but blew a .14 or lower.
  • Had their license suspended after refusing to blow into a Breathalyzer.

After understanding who this law does not apply to, we can begin to understand some of the major changes that this new law will bring about.

Those Who Were Convicted After Blowing a .15 or Higher

If a person is convicted, not just charged, after blowing a .15 or higher during a Breathalyzer test, there are a few steps that they need to take in accordance with this new law. The main thing is that they must install an ignition interlock system. This is a device that is installed into a person’s car that makes it mandatory to pass a breath sobriety test before starting the car. After installing this device, the person must prove that it has been installed, as well as get an ignition interlock restricted license. With this license, the driver is not allowed to drive any car but his or her own. And here’s the kicker—the person has to use his or her own money to buy this device, which is not cheap.

This device is mandatory for six months. However, this does not mean that a person can wait six months after they’re convicted to drive and bypass the whole installation. This device must be installed for six months. These six months begin once the device is installed, not once the person is convicted. For example, if the person does not have the device installed for four months after they are convicted (given they are not going to be driving during that time), the six-month period starts at the end of those four months, once the person begins to drive again. In other words, there is no way to escape the installation of the Ignition Interlock.

Those Who Were Convicted After Refusing to Take a Breathalyzer Test

For those who decide to refuse to take a Breathalyzer test at the time of the arrest, they do not have to get the ignition interlock installed in their car. However, they face a mandatory license suspension for six months. In other words, those who blew a .15 or higher have to have the Ignition Interlock installed, and have the ability to drive during those six months, while those refusing the test do not.

Those Who Were Convicted After Blowing Lower Than a .15

The consequences for those who blow lower than a .15 during a Breathalyzer test are very similar to those who refuse the test altogether. However, there is one major difference: while they both have a suspension on their license for six months, those who have blown lower than a .15 have the ability to apply for a provisional license. These licenses can vary, but, ultimately, they allow them to drive only under certain circumstances.

These punishments are only applicable to those who are being convicted for their first offense. Punishments are different when dealing with drivers who have prior convictions.

There are also a few other changes as a result of Emma’s Law, but they are only applied during very specific circumstances, such as if a person does not own a car, but uses someone else’s car to drive to work.

With these new changes in place surrounding DUI laws, South Carolina is expected to see a drop in DUI related crashes. Unfortunately, however, this does not mean that these types of accidents will completely disappear. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, do not hesitate to contact George Sink, P.A. Injury Lawyers with any questions or concerns.

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