Bill to expand South Carolina ignition interlock program advances

For those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, a new bill recently approved by the South Carolina Senate could enhance penalties by requiring the installation of an ignition interlock device.

An ignition interlock is a small mechanical device about the size of a hand-held calculator that is wired to the ignition system in a vehicle’s engine. An ignition interlock prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver cannot provide a breath sample that measures below a certain preset limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Currently, South Carolina requires ignition interlocks on the vehicles of some convicted drunk drivers. The new bill, however, would greatly expand the range of drivers who would be subject to an ignition interlock requirement.

Bill would require ignition interlocks for South Carolina drunk drivers with a high BAC

South Carolina kicked off its ignition interlock program in 2008. As the law stands, any South Carolina driver who is convicted of a second or subsequent DUI must have an ignition interlock device installed on his or her vehicle to regain driving privileges following the required license suspension period. If second or subsequent DUI offenders choose not to participate in the program, their driving privileges remain suspended for three years beyond the initial license suspension period.

Drivers must pay the full costs of an ignition interlock (including installation, service and removal). Although drivers required to use an ignition interlock must install a device on any personal vehicle they drive, even if one or more of the vehicles is not registered in their name, they are not required to equip work vehicles with an ignition interlock.

Under the new South Carolina bill, ignition interlocks would be required for some first-time DUI offenders. If the bill becomes law, those convicted of first-time driving under the influence with a BAC of .12 or above would have to install ignition interlocks on their vehicles (a driver is considered legally drunk at a BAC of just .08 or above, so this bill would target ” high BAC” drivers).

In addition, the bill would increase penalties for those who agree to install an ignition interlock, but fail to do so. Currently, a first-time offender who fails to install a required ignition interlock faces a fine of $300, 10 to 30 days of jail time, or both; under the bill, the penalties would jump to a minimum fine of $500, 90 days in jail or six months home detention, and an extension of six months on the period of required ignition interlock use. Offenders facing third or subsequent convictions would be hammered particularly hard under the new bill, facing a felony charge with a minimum fine of $5,000 as well as prison time or three years of home detention.

The bill passed in the South Carolina Senate by a vote of 41-0.

Strong legal defense may be the only way to avoid conviction and ignition interlock

While the new South Carolina ignition interlock bill is not law yet, it has a lot of momentum behind it. Across the country, 17 states already require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers.

Fees and service costs for an ignition interlock run about $130 a month in South Carolina. Ignition interlocks are also inconvenient and potentially embarrassing for drivers. And an ignition interlock is just one of the many harsh penalties levied against drunk drivers.

If you’ve been arrested on suspicion of DUI, do not panic. An arrest is not the same as a conviction, and with a strong legal defense, you may be able to avoid an ignition interlock and other consequences of conviction. Talk to a South Carolina DUI lawyer today to begin exploring your legal options.