Originally created 11/22/06

Sanford supports tougher DUI laws



COLUMBIA - Gov. Mark Sanford said Tuesday he'll support a new effort to toughen drunken-driving laws because nearly 500 people are killed every year in South Carolina by alcohol-impaired drivers.

"It is an absolute tragedy in terms of human life, of human potential in our state," Mr. Sanford said, adding that the state ranks among the top 10 "where you can expect to be killed on the roadway by a drunk driver."

Mr. Sanford said he intends to work with state lawmakers, Department of Public Safety Director Jim Schweitzer and Mothers Against Drunk Driving to try to end the carnage.

The governor decried the fact that, given certain "nuances in the law," cases against drunken drivers aren't fully prosecuted and many people charged with multiple drunken-driving offenses plead guilty to lesser charges to avoid jail time.

"The time has come ... to look at changes," Mr. Sanford said, arguing that adjustments in the law have not gone far enough to keep repeat offenders off the roads.

"There's no question what we need are stronger laws and tougher enforcement," said Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

He said changes might include increasing penalties for those found to be driving with higher blood alcohol levels; making public service mandatory for first-time offenders; and ordering mandatory prison time for those with multiple convictions.

Mr. Schweitzer said changes also could include removing the "needless complexity" of the law. For example, troopers are required to inform people of their rights three times during an arrest on drunken-driving charges, he said.

Mr. Sanford said South Carolinians also should take more responsibility for keeping family members off the roads if they have been drinking.

"Today, somebody is going to die on a roadway in South Carolina as a result of a drunk driver," Mr. Sanford said. "It means tomorrow somebody is going to die on a roadway as a result of a drunk driver. It means the day following that, the day following that, the day following that."