- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 12, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina officials have joined members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in support of stricter DUI legislation.

Gov. Henry McMaster, law enforcement and some members of the General Assembly joined that group Tuesday on the Statehouse grounds in support of an ignition interlock measure to require all first-time DUI offenders with a blood alcohol content level of .08 or greater to install the device in their vehicles. Current law requires repeat offenders and first-time offenders who blow a .15, twice the legal limit, or higher to install the system.

About the size of a cellphone, the device prevents drivers from starting their vehicles until a blood alcohol test is completed. A camera installed in the vehicle takes a picture of the driver and requires retests throughout the drive. The retests give the driver a six-minute window to safely pull over before blowing into the device for a retest. Currently, 32 states and Washington, D.C., participate in the program, said Katie Ritchie with the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers.

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that mandate interlocks for DUI offenders who have a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher reduced the number of impaired drivers in fatal crashes by 16 percent. State Rep. Eddie Tallon introduced companion legislation in the House and said his background in law enforcement gives him firsthand knowledge of the devastation caused by drunken driving.

“In my years of service, there has been rarely any legislation more important to saving lives than H3300 and S18,” the Spartanburg lawmaker said. “I have in my former career had to go to a family and tell them they lost a child or a parent. Maybe we can put more joy into people’s lives with having not to go tell them they lost a loved one to a drunk driver.”

Gov. Henry McMaster said passing legislation can be done in a matter of weeks. He added that the longer it takes to pass legislation, the more lives it will negatively impact.

“We need to be strong. We need to stand tall,” McMaster said. “This is a good bill, both of them, and we need it in South Carolina.”

Tallon said members of the General Assembly successfully passed Emma’s law, the current version of the ignition interlock bill, by compromising and setting the blood alcohol content at .15, but he said more needs to be done to help families still impacted.

Lisa Hagberg’s 26-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in Dillon, South Carolina, in 2017 while in the driveway of their home. Hagberg said the driver had a blood alcohol content level of .12.

“Our lives have just been devastated since then,” said the mother, who was lobbying for this expanded version of legislation last year said. “There isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do to get my daughter back. I’m in a group that I don’t want to be a part of.”

The safety and security of citizens must be the government’s first priority, Tallon said. The Republican lawmaker said the state cannot continue on its current path, adding now is the time for members of the General Assembly to work together and pass the legislation.

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