South Carolina recorded 1,198 total traffic fatalities in 2021, according to data on drunk driving presented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Four hundred one (or 33%) of these drivers were found to be alcohol-impaired, with 282 (or 24%) of the casualties registering a very high blood alcohol content of 0.15% or more.
To help discourage reckless behavior and curb the risk to public welfare, the Palmetto State imposes penalties, fines, and jail time upon drivers convicted of a DUI. These penalties and the laws that mandate them are detailed in this article.
Increased awareness of South Carolina’s stringent laws regarding driving under the influence helps locals and state visitors contribute to the collective campaign for responsible driving and safer streets.
General DUI Laws in South Carolina
In South Carolina, it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle if one's ability to drive is significantly impaired due to alcohol consumption. An individual is considered “under the influence” in one of the following situations:
If their blood alcohol content registers at 0.08% or higher, it is automatically assumed that the driver was driving under the influence.
If their BAC level ranges from at least 0.05% to less than 0.08%, the driver may be suspected of impairment and will be evaluated along with other evidence.
A driver operating a vehicle in South Carolina may be charged with aggravated DUI if their blood alcohol content is 0.15% or higher. If a driver has prior convictions for drunk driving within the last ten years, or if a passenger under the age of sixteen is in the car at the time of the incident, a DUI may also be classified as an aggravated type.
An aggravated DUI is a serious charge, covering egregious violations of the BAC limit, habitual offenses, and child endangerment. It naturally also extends to bodily harm inflicted on other people or the death of another person. In these cases, an aggravated DUI charge may go hand-in-hand with a felony charge or a charge of vehicular homicide.
Underage DUI Law
Drivers aged below 21 face considerable consequences when they are caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in South Carolina. The state follows a zero-tolerance law regarding the consumption of alcohol by minors. Accordingly, it is unlawful for underage drivers to operate a vehicle if they have a BAC greater than 0.02%.
Minors guilty of violating the law may be subject to hefty penalties and license suspensions, depending on their BAC test results and history of violations. In accordance with S.C. Code of Laws Section 63-19-2440, minors may also face charges for illegally buying or possessing alcoholic drinks in conjunction with their DUI offense.
South Carolina Laws Relative to DUI
Implied Consent Laws
In South Carolina, there is a specific legal provision regarding consent to testing if an individual is stopped for the suspicion of being impaired while operating a vehicle.
Drivers, upon securing their licenses, are considered to have automatically granted consent for BAC testing of their breath, blood, or urine to determine the presence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both in their system. This is what implied consent means.
Only a person who has undergone training and received certification from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy can administer the breath test in accordance with the regulations set by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. Additionally, only licensed professionals should collect and handle blood and urine samples, and they must do so in accordance with SLED-approved protocols.
Drivers 21 and older who refuse to submit to testing will have their licenses automatically suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles for 90 days and for 180 days if they have had any alcohol-related offenses in the preceding ten years. The court may also potentially use the refusal as justification for bringing a claim against the driver if they get involved in an accident.
Ignition Interlock Devices for Implied Consent Violations
Drivers who violate the implied consent law in South Carolina are required to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles.
An IID is a calculator-sized device attached to a car’s ignition that has the primary purpose of prohibiting the car from starting if it detects a BAC that is higher than a predetermined threshold. The duration for which the IDD must be installed is based on the number of prior offenses a person has incurred within the last 10 years.
Open Container Laws in Vehicles
South Carolina has strict open container regulations as part of its legal infrastructure to help curb instances of drunk driving. It is illegal to have an open container of beer, wine, or harder liquor in a motor vehicle moving on a public highway. A first conviction can result in up to $100 in fines or jail time of up to thirty days.
If you must transport alcoholic beverages, make sure that you store them in the car trunk or luggage compartment, as this is permissible by law.
DUI Laws for Commercial Drivers
Individuals with a commercial driver’s license are charged with a DUI if their BAC is 0.04%—in comparison to the standard 0.08% for non-holders of CDLs—upon their arrest. They can also get a DUI charge just for refusing to undergo a blood, urine, or breath test for their BAC.
If found guilty of a DUI twice, the driver loses their commercial driver’s license permanently.
Penalties are also adjusted depending on their cargo, which is indicative of how commercial industry regulations duly boost the strictness of DUI laws. If found guilty of a DUI while the driver was carrying hazardous materials, their commercial driver’s license will be disqualified for three years.
What Are the Penalties for a DUI in South Carolina?
People who violate DUI laws in South Carolina face a range of sanctions according to their DUI conviction history and the gravity of the current offense. The severity of penalties and length of jail time and license suspension increase with each subsequent violation, as illustrated in the table below:
Up to $400 penalty ($992 with assessments and surcharges)
48 hours to 30 days in jail
$2,100 to $5,100 ($10,744.50 with assessments and surcharges).
Five days to one year in jail
$3,800 to $6,300
60 days to three years in jail
Fourth and subsequent violations
One to five years in jail
Permanent revocation of license
Felony DUI (Causing great bodily injury)
$5,100 to $10,100 ($21,119.50 with assessments and surcharges)
30 days to 15 years
Permanent revocation of license
$10,100 to $25,100 ($52,244.50 with assessments and surcharges)
One to 25 years
Permanent revocation of license
South Carolina Dram Shop Law
Dram shop laws are created to indemnify victims of alcohol-related accidents or fatalities. In South Carolina, though, there is technically no dedicated dram shop statute. But the courts have historically upheld liability cases that take establishments to task for breaching their duty of care when serving alcohol.
Commercial outfits that sell liquor, such as bars, clubs, and restaurants, can be held liable for serving alcoholic drinks to minors or to those who are already intoxicated and subsequently cause accidents while driving.
Those who have been injured or the families of an individual killed by a drunk driver may pursue a dram shop claim against the establishment that violated S.C. Code Ann. § 61-4-580. Complainants must demonstrate or present evidence that the business knowingly served liquor to an individual who has already consumed alcoholic drinks.
In a similar vein, if the vendor or an adult host knew or should have known that the guest was under the age of 21, they may be liable for any harm that results from the alcohol service.
How Much Can Someone Sue For a Drunk Driving Injury in South Carolina?
Victims of a drunk driver in South Carolina can sue for compensatory damages, which can include medical expenses, missed wages, and pain and suffering incurred. In addition, plaintiffs may recover punitive damages if they can present solid evidence that the drunk driver was particularly reckless or negligent. This also applies even if the charges against the at-fault party have been dropped.
In order to recover fair and full damages for the DUI victims, lawyers must demonstrate that the other driver was intoxicated during the incident. Obtaining and presenting the following evidence helps build cases:
Testimony from eyewitnesses and police officers
Crash scene evaluation reports
The at-fault driver’s reckless driving behavior
The negligent driver’s location prior to the accident (e.g. bar or club)
Punitive damages can be awarded to DUI victims based on different factors that the court takes into account:
The severity of the injury the victim incurred
The level of intoxication (BAC level) of the defendant
The liability of the defendant for the accident
The driving conviction record of the defendant
In contrast to other states that place a cap on the amount of damages, the sum of money that can be recovered in South Carolina civil cases involving DUI is not restricted by law.
However, the maximum amount of punitive damages awarded in South Carolina courts following a criminal trial is $500,000 or three times the amount of restitution, whichever is higher.
The Statute of Limitations in South Carolina
The statute of limitations is imposed to ensure that the evidence is still available and current to more efficiently facilitate legal procedures. In South Carolina, there is no particular statute of limitations on criminal acts like DUI.
However, people who have been harmed due to a drunk driver’s negligence may file a civil lawsuit to recover compensation three years from the date of the injury. The three-year time limit is also applicable for cases that involve wrongful death claims.
Some of the rule’s exceptions are as follows:
Plaintiffs who are seeking to sue a defendant acting on behalf of the government will only have two years from the day of the incident.
Minors who have been injured in drunk driving incidents have the legal right to file a lawsuit against at-fault parties for injuries suffered until they reach their 19th birthday.
For injured workers who follow South Carolina’s workers’ compensation system, the filing of claims must be made within two years from the date of harm or upon the discovery of the work-related injury.
Resources for Folks Injured by an Impaired Driver in South Carolina
Victims or survivors of impaired driving can seek assistance and guidance to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of such events. The support may come from professionals, organizations, or authorities equipped with the necessary resources to help facilitate their healing and recovery.
The agencies and nonprofits listed below provide a variety of services geared toward helping victims of crimes, including those involved in DUI-related incidents.
The South Carolina Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program
The ADSAP is a statewide mandatory program that provides education, counseling, and rehabilitation to people who have had their driving licenses suspended through the state’s Administrative License Revocation process and those convicted of DUI.
To determine the main area and the level of treatment an individual needs, an ADSAP clinical counselor will conduct a thorough assessment. The ADSAP program is offered and facilitated by the Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council—a nonprofit authority recognized by South Carolina that caters primarily to the citizens of Lexington and Richland Counties.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Mothers Against Drunk Driving provides free assistance to victims of accidents that involve impaired driving. It is dedicated to achieving more stringent laws and is working toward a future where no more victims suffer. It offers access to valuable resources, assistance, education, and emotional support. It also connects victims to other survivors who have gone through the same experience to create a support system.
In addition, the organization helps survivors navigate the legal system and assists them in applying for crime victim compensation. MADD Victim Advocate is available nationwide and can be reached 24/7 through 1-877-MADD-HELP (1-877-623-3435).
The National Center for Victims of Crimes
The National Center for Victims of Crimes is a dedicated nonprofit organization committed to supporting victims of different types of crimes, including DUI, in their journey to assert their rights and rebuild their lives. It also works to provide reliable information to victims regarding certain issues. Additionally, it collaborates closely with a wide network of professionals at the local, federal, and state levels to protect and enforce victims’ rights. Through these partnerships, NCVC works diligently to build a supportive environment where victims can seek justice and healing. Some of the other services it offers are interactive training, attorney referrals, and confidential helplines. Individuals can reach out to the organization by dialing +1 202-467-8700 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
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