A new Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) South Carolina report notes that South Carolina had 335 drunk driving deaths in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While this represents 13 fewer drunk driving deaths than 2012, the state rose to number one among worst drunk driving rates due to 44% of all state traffic deaths being caused by drunk driving. The national average is 31%.
“Improvements aren’t being made fast enough, and it’s a shame that we lead the nation in such devastating circumstances,” said MADD South Carolina Program Director Steven Burritt. “It forces us to ask ourselves as a state once again whether we’re doing everything we know we should to drive these numbers down. We know the answer is that we’re not.”
MADD said it was hoping to see greater declines in drunk deaths for the state, considering that overall traffic deaths dropped 11% from 863 in 2012 to 767 to 2013. However, drunk driving deaths dropped by only 4%.
Nationally, drunk driving deaths once again topped 10,000 in 2013, though they fell from 10,322 in 2012 to 10,076 in 2013.
MADD is several years into its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, which outlines steps to end drunk driving deaths. The Campaign calls for more high visibility law enforcement through sobriety checkpoints, all convicted drunk drivers to use an ignition interlock device, and the development of advanced vehicle technology, like the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which one day can eliminate drunk driving completely.
South Carolina toughened the penalties for DUI offenses last year when “Emma’s Law” went into effect on October 1. The new law expands the use of ignition interlock devices to first-time offenders who are arrested with a blood alcohol content above .12. But that is not the full measure recommended by the Campaign.
Burritt said more needs to be done in South Carolina. “We look at the issue of ignition interlock devices, which we had a nice step forward with, with Emma’s Law and we were very proud and that was a major achievement. Yet compared to what some other states have done we really only went part of the way,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Emma’s Law is going to help with these numbers going forward, for sure. But we did not go as far as 24 states have done to require these devices for every DUI offender, so we can’t expect the kind of massive drops those states had. Also, Emma’s Law can only meet expectations if those who should be convicted of drunk driving actually are. We know this isn’t happening.”
In 2015, MADD South Carolina said it will be joining with law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and others to attempt to make changes to the state’s law regarding videotaping of DUI arrests. Local accounts indicate a rising trend of cases being thrown out over minor flaws in the videotape recording, sometimes for reasons out of officers’ control.
“When clearly impaired individuals are having their charges thrown out because someone stumbles out of the frame briefly or half a body part is cut off on the recording, we’re not keeping the public safe from drunk driving like we should,” said Burritt. “These are roadside dash cam recordings, usually at night. They are not travelling TV studios. We’ve got to bring back some sanity to this process.” Burritt said.