State Legislators Seek to Expand Use of Ignition Interlocks
One of the most powerful tools available in the battle against driving under the influence is the ignition interlock. It is a device that is mounted on the vehicle of an individual that has been convicted of DUI which requires that anyone trying to start the vehicle blow into the machine. If the machine detects the presence of alcohol, it locks the vehicle and will not allow it to be started.
South Carolina first passed the use of interlocks in 2008, but it only required interlocks for repeat DUI offenders. Emma’s Law, so-named for Emma Longstreet, who was killed by a repeat offender in an accident in 2012, was passed in 2014, and requires an interlock for anyone that is convicted of DUI with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.15 – nearly twice the legal limit.
“South Carolina regularly ranks as one of the top-five states for motor vehicle deaths involving alcohol,” said Gary Christmas, a South Carolina Car Accident Attorney with the law firm of Howell & Christmas. “Increased use of interlock devices has been consistently associated with a corresponding reduction in alcohol-related deaths,” he said.
Unfortunately, there are loopholes that allow individuals that meet the criteria for an interlock to avoid its installation. Prior to conviction, drivers charged with DUI can seek to be issued a temporary alcohol license that would allow them to drive with no real restrictions. Additionally, individuals that refuse to submit to blood-alcohol testing automatically lose their license for six months, but in the absence of evidence that their blood alcohol content exceeded the limit, an interlock is not an option for prosecutors and judges.
Statistically speaking, about one-third of individuals that are caught driving under the influence are repeat offenders, meaning that they have been convicted previously for DUI. This incidence of “recidivism” (the likelihood that someone convicted of a crime will commit a crime again) provides serious support to the argument that the use of interlocks should be expanded to anyone convicted of DUI, simply because of the likelihood that a drunk driver is likely to drive drunk again.
Individuals injured by drunk drivers do receive some assistance from the law in the form of “negligence per se.” Negligence per se is a legal theory that allows a plaintiff to present the evidence of an individual’s conviction of a crime as proof the defendant also acted negligently. In order to claim negligence per se, the plaintiff must show that the crime of which the defendant was convicted resulted in the kind of harm the statute was designed to prevent, and that the plaintiff is a member of the class the law desired to protect.
Driving under the influence laws are designed to keep other drivers and pedestrians safe by discouraging drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. Individuals injured in an accident with a drunk driver are certainly the ones the law was designed to protect. In South Carolina, when negligence per se is shown, it opens the door to a jury verdict for punitive damages in addition to other damages.
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident with a drunk driver, contact a South Carolina Car Accident Attorney as soon as possible. Doing so will ensure that your rights are protected, and that the attorney can begin advocating for you with the insurance companies.