Stricter DUI laws now in effect

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By Jenny Hartley

Stiffer penalties for driving under the influence have gone into effect, and the S.C. Highway Patrol is planning heightened DUI enforcement.

The new laws went into effect Tuesday.

They include higher fines for DUI offenders, harsher punishments for repeat offenders and a six-month driver’s license suspension for offenders who refuse to take a breath-analysis test after their arrest.

First-time offenders will also have to complete an alcohol and drug-treatment program upon conviction, said Lance Cpl. Jeff Gaskin of the Highway Patrol.

“We want these laws and this message to get out to deter DUIs,” Gaskin said. “We’re pleased to see this law. It adds strength to our law enforcement efforts.”

South Carolina ranks near the top of the nation for alcohol-related traffic deaths, Gaskin said. Overall traffic fatalities are down in the state, with 933 deaths in 2008, but DUI-related fatalities rose.

“Drunk driving continues to take a heavy toll on our state,” Gaskin said.

Through Labor Day, the patrol plans on stepped-up efforts targeting drunk drivers.  The patrol will be working with the State Transport Police and more than 200 local law enforcement agencies on DUI enforcement, Gaskin said.

Highlights of laws

Under the new laws, the blood-alcohol level of a person charged with DUI can determine what type of penalty he or she may receive.

For offenders with a .16 blood-alcohol level or higher, the penalty is $1,000, plus court costs, with a month to three months in jail for a first offense. That fine is $400 plus court costs, with two to 30 days in jail if the offender’s blood-alcohol level is .01 or less.

Those convicted of a fourth DUI face one to seven years in prison, according to their blood-alcohol level.

Anyone convicted of a second offense or higher will have his or her car registration and license plate suspended.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151