Emma Jenkins’ name will forever be a part of South Carolina’s history. Her parents, however, probably would have been happy to have had their daughter live a long and relatively obscure life.
That was not to be. Emma was 6 when a repeat offender drunk driver killed her in 2012. Her parents, David and Karen Longstreet of Lexington, were vocal advocates for imposing stronger penalties for drunk drivers in South Carolina. They no longer have their daughter Emma, but they can derive some comfort in knowing her abbreviated life gave rise to effective changes that became law several weeks ago but was celebrated with a ceremonious signing at the Statehouse on Wednesday.
It took an incredible amount of work and dedication to get the legislation through the state House and Senate, but the perseverance of the Longstreets and other activists who applied intense pressure on lawmakers is what brought about substantial and life-saving changes to our current state laws as they apply to drunk drivers.
And let’s be honest. A substantial hurdle was put up by attorneys who stand to make a decent living. As was reported in early April by The State newspaper, existing DUI laws contained  a number of loopholes. Accused and convicted drunken drivers, the newspaper reported, provided an annual $100 billion legal business in the state as their cases would weave through courts of appeal. And in the interim, of course, those drivers were quickly behind the wheel and back on the roads.


So what does Emma’s Law do? For the first time, an interlock ignition device will be required to be installed in the automobiles driven by all first-time drunken drivers who enter guilty pleas or are convicted of having a blood alcohol content of .15 or higher. The device would remain on the auto for six months for a first-time offender, two years for an offender with a second conviction. Anyone starting the car would have to blow into the device and register an alcohol breath level of less than .02.
Statistics reflect the need for stricter drunk driving laws in our state. Many of us already know of drivers who, much to our dismay and surprise, are still driving cars after having multiple DUI convictions. And many of us know or are part of a family that has lost a loved one to a drunk driver. Just since Emma Longstreet was killed in 2012 on her way to church there have been more than 500 additional South Carolinians killed as a result of wrecks involving drunk drivers.
Some might contend the change in the law is overreaching. Maybe they should share that view with the Longstreets and others whose children have been taken from them as as result of someone driving drunk.