South Carolina DUI Bill Aims to Step Up the Fight Against Drunk Driving in the State

A proposed South Carolina DUI bill would mandate one-year driver's license suspensions following breath test refusals, align DUI penalties with rising BAC levels on a tiered system of severity, and dramatically change the DUI laws in the state.

A subcommittee of the S.C. Impaired Driving Prevention Council unanimously passed a DUI bill on January 22nd which would up the ante for a South Carolina breathalyzer refusal from the current penalty of a 90-day license suspension to a one-year suspension. If the bill passes the full council, it could be introduced to the state legislature by early February, according to an online story of The State.

Specifically, the proposed drunken driving bill would attempt to stiffen South Carolina DUI laws that many critics feel are some of the weakest in the country and have contributed to the state having top-ten death rates in alcohol-related crashes in the past.

Under the new bill:

  • DUI penalties would increase with blood alcohol levels and the number of offenses. For example, a first time offender who registers a BAC of 0.08% (the legal limit in all 50 states) but less than 0.10% would spend 48 hours in jail. Fourth and subsequent offenses of driving with a level of at least 0.16% would face seven years in prison. Current South Carolina DUI penalties range from 48 hours in jail to five years in prison, regardless of BAC levels.
  • Failing a breathalyzer test would mean different lengths of driver's license suspensions based on BAC. The proposed bill would automatically suspend a driver's license for two months for any suspect who blows a 0.10% or higher. Current South Carolina DUI law mandates an automatic 30-day suspension for suspects who register BAC levels of 0.15%. Under the new DUI bill, the suspension would be six months for BAC levels at 0.20% or higher.
  • DUI language would be changed. Current South Carolina DUI law makes it illegal to be "driving under the influence". The new bill would change the language to "operating under the influence," which some opponents believe would allow a person who is sitting in a parked but running car to be stopped on suspicion of DUI.
  • South Carolina police would not be required to warn DUI suspects about self-incrimination before administering breath and field sobriety tests.

Like most pieces of legislation, the 27-page South Carolina DUI bill has its proponents and opponents. Jeff Moore, Chairman of the council subcommittee that drafted the bill, said in The State story that he believes the legislation can make a difference if passed. One South Carolina DUI lawyer complained in the story that the bill would be unfair to certain types of suspects.

Regardless of these conflicting opinions, the new South Carolina DUI bill reflects an increased effort by the state to crackdown on drunk driving. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford recently called for tougher DUI laws in his State Address.

This proposed bill is a good example of how proposed changes to DUI laws in not only South Carolina but many other states are commonly seen at this time each year, and how drunk driving is an issue requiring constant attention, monitoring and progress.

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