Can S.C. make drunken drivers pay child support if they kill parent?

South Carolina lawmakers are attempting to crack down on drunk drivers with a proposed bill.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 11:23 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina lawmakers are attempting to crack down on drunken drivers with a proposed bill. However, one attorney says more boxes need to be checked off before it goes into law.

A pair of lawmakers have sponsored a bill that, if passed, would require convicted drunken drivers to pay child support if they kill a parent in a crash. There are currently eight states that have introduced this legislation and only one has put it into law. It is often called Bentley’s Law.

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Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says this bill is crucial to helping the families who are victims to drunk driving accidents.

“The problem with drunk driving is far from over,” Harris said. “That’s part of Bentley’s law is reminding folks. And the other part is that to make people think twice before getting behind the wheel.”

About 32 people die every day from drunk driving, according to the national highway traffic safety administration. Harris says he would like to see this bill implemented, but he still has concerns.

“The drunk drivers that are in this area, don’t play out to a lesser offense, or fall into a separate statute more than they avoid being held accountable under Bentley’s Law,” Harris said.

Attorney Mark Peper with Peper Law Firm says he does not think this would happen, but also agrees there’s still missing pieces.

“We see this very often,” Peper said. “The state comes up with a great idea. In principle this is a great idea, but practically, how does it work in the real world?”

Peper was asked if he thinks this law could turn into covering not just drunk or drugged driving, but overall distracted driving as well.

“I understand the legislative intent, but the concern would be, are we opening up Pandora’s box?” Peper said. “If we’re saying, if you’re behind the wheel and you killed a parent of a minor child and now you’re responsible for paying the rest of whatever it is until he’s turned 18, that’s where I think the constitution has to step in and say, ‘Woah, that’s ambiguous.’”

Harris says people need to remember that drunk driving incidents are increasing in South Carolina.

“We still need to be vigilant to ensure there are no more victims of drunk driving,” Harris said.

Peper says this law needs to go through academic and legal scholars before it’s put into action.

“If we’re really going to pass legislation, maybe we ought to pass legislation that tightens up those loopholes to where people that actually do commit the crime of DUI are convicted of DUI,” Peper said.

The bill was referred to the House judiciary committee for review. Peper says it’s not likely that South Carolina will see this bill passed nor signed into law for at least another two to four years.