IRMO, SC (WIS) - Are South Carolina's DUI laws not strict enough?
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, South Carolina is one of the most lenient states when it comes to DUI penalties. M.A.D.D. says it could be the blame for the increased risk of being hit by a drunk or drugged driver.
It's part of a three-year study released just this week and comes with some tough criticism saying ultimately too many people are let off on a DUI conviction and that it's way too hard to get convicted of a DUI penalty.
"The system is broken," said Steven Burritt, Program director of M.A.D.D. "When we are not holding people accountable in the courtroom and when we make it so difficult for officers to get convictions - that might explain why we are consistently one of the worst states when it comes to drunk driving."
Part of that, Burritt explains, is the police dash camera law which is a required piece of evidence in court.
"We are not against using dash cam videos in prosecuting DUI's, and our partners are generally not calling for that either," said Burritt. "However, it is one piece of evidence. There are going to be issues with the quality of dash cam video in the middle of the night on the side of the road, maybe at a chaotic crash scene."
Burritt says the study found that
"If virtually anything is incomplete with the videotape - chance of getting a conviction is basically a zero. That could include someone's foot being obscured, audio, video glitch."
The study also raises major concerns that Emma's law saying it needs to be strengthened. The law was passed in 2014 which requires those convicted of their first DUI offense to use an ignition interlock for six months if they blow a 0.15 or higher.
In addition, South Carolina is one of the only states to make the arresting officer build their case against a trained defense attorney.
"It's really a mismatch having an officer, even some of our best ones, going against someone who does this for a living to defend people on DUI's," Burritt said.
The study doesn't sit well with a Lexington County woman who lost her best friend in a drunk driving crash nearly 25 years ago.
"We all want to be able to come back after our holiday weekend and talk about what we did with our family members. The truth of the matter after this holiday weekend - I know I am going to get phone calls. On the other side of that phone call is going to be an anguished loved one who lost someone" said Kimberly Cockrell.
Several years have passed since Cockrell lost her best friend Nancy Thurmond. Cockrell says the pain doesn't get any easier.
In 2015, 301 people died on South Carolina roads related to drunk or drugged driving.