Bill to strengthen DUI laws in SC could reach governor soon

Nearly two dozen other states have more people than South Carolina, but recently, just seven states had more felony DUI deaths.
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 9:35 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Nearly two dozen other states have more people than South Carolina, but recently, just seven states had more felony DUI deaths.

A push to strengthen state DUI law is a personal fight for so many South Carolina families, including one woman who nearly lost her life five years ago Friday.

On the morning May 5, 2018, Megan Diffee was driving along a Lexington County highway, headed to a soccer game, when a driver high on cocaine and other drugs hit her head-on at 60 miles per hour.

Two seconds later, another car slammed into Diffee’s, going 45.

“My husband was two cars behind me, and he could see the whole thing,” Diffee said.

“It sounded like a billion soda cans being squashed at the same time,” her husband, Brandon, recalled.

Diffee was unconscious inside her crushed car, having suffered a traumatic brain injury and around two dozen broken bones.

She doesn’t remember anything until nearly a month after the crash.

“And I’m really grateful for that because I’ve heard stories of what happened and what was going on, and it’s nothing that I care to remember,” she said.

As she recovered, Diffee learned about efforts to make it harder for impaired drivers to get behind the wheel in South Carolina.

Since then, she has advocated alongside organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving in support of that legislation, which has fallen short of becoming law in recent years.

“It’s really frustrating,” Diffee said. “The more you learn, the more infuriating it is to know, you know, what’s the holdup? It seems like a commonsense bill.”

But that could soon change.

Under current state law, drivers can be required to temporarily use an ignition interlock device if they have multiple DUI convictions or one conviction with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15, nearly twice the legal limit.

Drivers have to blow into the device, and their car won’t start if they are intoxicated.

“We know that last year in South Carolina, 22,000 times, people tried to start their car with alcohol in their system, and the device worked and stopped the car from starting,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said.

Hutto is the lead sponsor of S.36, which would temporarily impose an ignition interlock requirement on all first convictions for DUI and pre-convictions.

“That’s the biggest reason why this is needed is because if you’re getting caught, you’ve done it before, and you’re not afraid of doing it,” Brandon Diffee said.

This bill has passed both the state Senate, and earlier this week, the House of Representatives, where it had died in previous years.

There are some slight differences between the two bills, however, so lawmakers will need to work out a compromise sent to the governor.

“It will literally save lives,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving Victims Services Manager Kimberly Cockrell said. “We understand they need to go to work, pick up their children, so this is why the interlock is so important. It not only keeps them safe and those in their car safe, but it would also protect the rest of the citizens of the state.”

Diffee testified in support of the bill at a hearing this year, getting to this point five years later after too many surgeries to count — “Everything’s been operated on,” she said.

Her life is forever changed, though it took years to admit.

“I’m not going to be able to go back to my job. I’m not going to be able run again, and accepting that takes a really long time,” she said.

Now she and Brandon are excited to welcome their first child soon, a boy, a baby they were unsure they could ever have after the crash.

But the wreck still casts fear and worries over that joy.

“I worry about not being able to chase after a kid who’s just playing around and not being able to catch them, not being able to pick him up off the ground,” Diffee said.

The Diffees say the driver who did this to them — who is currently in prison, serving a 15-year sentence for felony DUI with great bodily injury — and anyone else who gets behind the wheel intoxicated or impaired are selfish.

“Think about putting your life at risk, and you don’t know who you’re going to hit,” Diffee said.