McMaster signs ignition interlock bill to prevent DUI on SC roads

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Published: Jul. 12, 2023 at 6:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS) - On Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster marked the passage of new legislation designed to strengthen the state’s DUI laws.

McMaster held a ceremonial signing of S.36, the Ignition Interlock Bill, at the State House. The law, which he actually signed into law in May, makes it tougher for people convicted of DUI to get behind the wheel impaired again.

The law temporarily imposes an ignition interlock requirement on all DUI convictions.

“It’s OK to drink if you want to and it’s OK to drive if you want to. But you can’t do both at the same time,” McMaster said at a news conference ahead of the ceremonial signing. “Too many South Carolina families have been tragically impacted by reckless drivers under the influence of alcohol. This legislation will significantly reduce the number of DUI incidents across our state and ultimately save the lives of countless South Carolinians.”

An ignition interlock is a device about the size of a cell phone that is wired into a vehicle’s ignition system. Convicted drunk drivers must provide a breath sample into the device in order to start their vehicle. If any measurable amount of alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start.

McMaster said he looks forward to new technologies that will further help crack down on attempts at impaired driving.

“We’ve got the best law enforcement, I believe, in the country, but they can’t stop this themselves. And this law will go a long way,” McMaster said.

Col. Chris Williamson, the commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, said that of the 1,037 traffic fatalities that occurred last year in South Carolina, 33% were attributed to alcohol impairment.

“Our troopers and officers are on the front lines combatting impaired driving each and every day,” Williamson said. “And every day we see firsthand the devastating impacts of impaired driving: people who lose a family member, a friend, or simply the ability to walk or enjoy life the way they used to, all because someone made the reckless and selfless decision to drive impaired.”

Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D – Orangeburg and the lead sponsor of the bill, also works as an attorney who has represented both those charged with driving under the influence and victims of DUI accidents.

“I’m probably an unlikely person to have been behind this. I’ve represented close to 3,000 people who’ve been accused of DUI. I’m a DUI defense lawyer, but I see it every day,” he said. “And my clients come in and they’re making bad judgments. I said, you know, we’ve got to do this even though it may cost me to lose half my clients. But you know, it’s the right thing to do. It’s right for highway safety.”

Hutto said data shows ignition interlock devices have stopped thousands of people who attempted to drive with alcohol in their system.

“So the fact that this bill will help us get this device on more cars will save even more lives,” Hutto said.

In recent years, South Carolina had the eighth-most felony DUI deaths among all states.

Advocates from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other organizations attended the signing.

“It has been several years since any state had passed a law that will save as many lives from the preventable crime of drunk driving as this law will,” MADD National President Tess Rowland said.

The loved ones of several DUI victims were also in attendance.

Many of them have been calling for South Carolina to toughen up its DUI laws for years.

“I can’t bring my daughter back. My daughter’s gone. She’s nothing but ashes in an urn and the memories that we have. She’s gone. But I’ve been doing this because I want to make sure other people don’t have to go through this,” Lisa Hagberg of Florence said.

Hagberg’s daughter, Challissah, was killed while driving home in Dillon County at the age of 26 in 2017. The driver who hit her was later convicted of felony DUI and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“She should be here. She should be here living her life, living her dreams, changing the world,” Hagberg said.

The families of victims believe this will save lives, but for them, the moment is also bittersweet.

“We love them, and we miss them, and this has been horrible,” said Jenifer Klepesky, whose daughter, Madison, and her boyfriend, JonPaul Gonzalez, were killed in 2021 in Hardeeville by a driver believed to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. “I just wish it had been passed when it had first been introduced because had that happened, I believe Madison and JonPaul would still be here because they were killed 18 months ago.”

Advocates say there is still more work to do.

Hutto said he will keep pushing to expand the ignition interlock requirement to all pre-convictions for DUI as well, noting it took a few years to get this new law passed in the state’s House of Representatives, which finally happened this year, after the Senate passed it multiple times.

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