South Carolina Drunk Driving Laws & Penalties

South Carolina Drunk Driving Laws & Penalties

In South Carolina, there are certain laws and penalties in place to prevent drunk driving and protect sober drivers. Unfortunately, the holidays are often when the roads see the highest number of intoxicated drivers. Here are just a few of the South Carolina drunk driving laws & penalties you need to be aware of should you or a loved one decide to indulge this holiday weekend. 

South Carolina Drunk Driving Laws & Penalties

In South Carolina, you’re outlawed from driving under any of these conditions:

  • With a BAC (blood alcohol content) of .08% or greater (note: this changes to only .04% if you’re operating a commercial vehicle)
  • While “under the influence” of any drug or intoxicant 
  • While “under the influence” of alcohol 

What exactly does “under the influence” mean?

South Carolina law defines “under the influence” as being impaired to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired. Despite this definition, a driver can still be convicted of a “per se DUI”, regardless of their actual level of impairment, if their BAC is .08% or more. The reason for this is that alcohol tends to affect everyone differently, based on their gender, body size, and the type of alcohol they were consuming. A couple of drinks to a 6’4” 250lb man (who regularly drinks) is going to affect him differently than a couple of drinks to a 5’2” 110lb woman (who only indulges in alcohol on social occasions). The BAC helps bridge the gap and provides a clear indication of toxication in relation to tolerance.

South Carolina DUI Penalties

So what’s the big deal with buzzed driving? Well, if you put aside the fact that you’re threatening the lives of yourself, your passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians, there are criminal penalties to consider. 

For the… 1st Offense 2nd Offense 3rd Offense
Jail Time 48 hours to 1 year 5 days to 3 years 60 days to 5 years
Fines $400 to $1,000 $2,100 to $6,500 $3,800 to $10,000

As you can see, penalties increase with the number of prior offenses. In addition to these penalties, the judge may consider other factors such as:

  • Treatment: Almost every DUI conviction requires you to enroll in the Alcohol and Drug Safety Action Program (ADSAP). As part of this program, you’re required to take a court-ordered substance abuse evaluation, which may show you need further treatment.
  • Community service: First time offenders may be eligible to do community service instead of jail time. The amount is typically equal to the amount of jail time that would have required. 
  • BAC levels: The chart above shows the generalization of minimum and maximums for a first, second, and third offense. However, penalties are further differentiated and increased or decreased based on the driver’s BAC.  

Additional Penalties Regarding Driver’s License Sanctions

In addition to fines and jail time or community service, the court may order your driver’s license to be suspended or restricted. 

2nd Offense 3rd
BAC of .15%
or more

6 month driver’s license suspension.

Drivers may obtain a temporary provisional license which permits driving but requires specific treatment requirements.

Drivers who refuse testing or with a BAC of .15%+ may drive under the ignition interlock device (IID) program

2 years with an installed IID

3 years with an installed IID

This increases to 4 years if the driver has had 3 DUIs within 5 years


The judge will immobilize any vehicle owned that is not equipped with an IID “immobilized”.

Requires forfeiture of your license plate and registration.

Driver faces an additional 1, 2, and 3 month suspension for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd offense DUI, respectively. 

What happens if you refuse to take a chemical or breath test?

South Carolina has “implied consent” laws that require drivers lawfully arrested for a DUI to submit to a breath, blood, or urine test. Unlawful refusal will result in suspension of 6 (1st offense), 9 (2nd offense), and 12 months (3rd offense). Suspended drivers may enroll in the IID program and must complete the remainder of the suspension with a restricted license and IID. 

The Dark Side of Drunk Driving

These are just some of the penalties you may face for driving under the influence. Unfortunately, the repercussions don’t stop here, especially if you injured another driver in a DUI accident. You may face more than criminal penalties and small fines for your actions.