Failing Emma

A subcommittee of the South Carolina House of Representatives has passed a version of “Emma’s Law,” a bill that will require first-offense drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicles.  While that might seem good, it is not.  The lawyer-legislators decided that the specific blood alcohol content (BAC) of the offender when convicted should be .15 rather than the originally proposed .12.  How incredibly stupid!IgnitionInterlock

“Emma’s Law” is named for Emma Longstreet, a Lexington, SC 6-year-old killed by a repeat-offender drunk driver.

Legally drunk in South Carolina – and the rest of the United States – is defined by a BAC of .08.   An article in The State newspaper pointed to the likely reason for nearing doubling the minimum level for offenders before requiring the device:

“The bill, authored by Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, is opposed by some criminal defense lawyers. Defending drunk drivers in S.C. courts and in the administrative law court system is a booming business for lawyers, who can make up to $7,500 for each routine DUI case…”

This abomination is actually two levels of stupid. 

First, it allows more convicted drunk drivers the opportunity to jeopardize public safety without any kind of governor on their behavior.  The Centers for Disease Control tell us that drivers with a BAC of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were four times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system? (8% and 2%, respectively).  It even suggests looking into reducing the BAC level for drunk driving to .05!

According to the The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 2011 Traffic Safety Facts, laws passed by all 50 states and the District of Columbia lowering the threshold of illegal driving to .08 blood alcohol content have resulted in a 25% decrease in drunk driving fatalities.

But NO, let’s give drunk drivers MORE shots at killing people on South Carolina highways!

Thus the second level of stupidity.  A drunk driving conviction should mean automatic, minimum jail time. Period. No second chances. Zero tolerance.  Two years to start.  Repeat offenders, if their conviction comes less than five years after getting out, go back to the Gray Bar Hotel for five years.  After that, no matter when the violation occurs, a third offense means 10 years.  Except…

If a driver is convicted of being under the influence and kills another human being, be (s)he in the driver’s car or another, it is vehicular manslaughter.  In South Carolina, the penalty for vehicular manslaughter is not less than 1 year or more than 25 years and not less than $10,100 or more than  $25,100  (SC ST § 56-5-2945(A)(2)).

If we want to be serious about protecting our families and everyone else traveling on South Carolina highways, I believe that minimum should be raised to at least 10 years.

In 2012, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 357 alcohol-impaired fatalities in the Palmetto State.  Forty One percent of all driving deaths in the state involved DUI.  One quarter of those 357 deaths (89) were caused by drivers with less than .15 BAC and 68 by repeat offenders below .15.

In 2012, 17,906 people were arrested for drunk driving.  How close did we come to having so many more people murdered because someone decided to get drunk?

That’s the key point… they DECIDED to get drunk and DECIDED to get in a vehicle and drive it on a public thoroughfare.  Like Billy Patrick Hutto, the man who crashed into the Longstreet family van on New Year’s Day, 2012.

Hutto was sentenced to 10 years for the felony DUI resulting in great bodily injury and 9 years for the felony DUI resulting in death. The two sentences are to be served concurrently.  He is eligible for parole on the felony DUI charge resulting in great bodily injury but not on the felony DUI resulting in death.

South Carolina needs to get mean with these people.  Emma Longstreet should be among us today.  We should not loose any more children, teenagers, parents, grandparents, co-workers, neighbors, tourists or people passing through.

Our legislators can and should do more, not less.  I won’t try to speak for the Longstreet family, but at this point, I think it shameful to call this disgrace “Emma’s Law.”

//C//

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