New DUI law going into effect

AIKEN --- The penalty for drinking and driving in South Carolina gets tougher today.

A new DUI law spells out higher fines, longer jail time and mandatory counseling for intoxicated motorists.

According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, the new law is designed to close loopholes that have allowed some to avoid convictions.

Although traffic fatalities were down in 2008 from the previous year, the percentage of DUI-related deaths increased, state statistics show. In 2008, of the 914 people killed on South Carolina highways, 461 -- about 50 percent -- were involved in DUI-related accidents. In 2007, alcohol-related accidents resulted in 463 -- or 43 percent -- of the 1,077 traffic deaths, according to safety officials.

Highlights of the new law:

- Higher penalties for convictions. The higher the blood alcohol content, the stiffer the penalty. The law creates a tiered penalty system based on how many times drivers are convicted and how much alcohol is in their system. The blood-alcohol limit is 0.08 percent. The new penalties get harsher at 0.10 percent and 0.16 percent. Also, repeat offenders will face larger fines and longer prison sentences.

- Less strict Miranda warning procedure. According to the new law, the officer only has to read the Miranda rights to the suspect once upon arrest instead of three times.

- Stronger breath-test refusal penalty. Drivers who refuse breath tests will have their licenses suspended for six months instead of three.

- Required counseling. Convicted drunken drivers, including first-time offenders, must complete an alcohol- and drug-treatment program.

The Legislature approved the changes last year.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.