COLUMBIA (AP) — A driver who seriously injures someone while driving recklessly in South Carolina could be charged with a felony under a bill being considered in the Senate.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said Tuesday his bill addresses a huge gap in the law, as the current punishment is a six-point traffic ticket.
State law provides felony prosecution for intoxicated drivers who kill or seriously injure someone. And a driver who’s not drunk but kills someone while driving recklessly faces years in jail.
But there’s no punishment for a sober driver who puts someone in a coma while knowingly driving dangerously, Massey said.
“If you cause organ damage or put them in the hospital for a long time, you get a traffic ticket,” he said. “It’s criminal behavior. It ought to be punished.”
He said he filed the bill after a constituent was hospitalized by a driver going more than 80 mph through a neighborhood with a 30 mph speed limit, ran a stop sign, and “T-boned” the victim’s vehicle.
His bill would make felony reckless driving punishable by a $1,000 to $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in jail.
The bill would also increase penalties for drivers convicted of killing someone while driving recklessly. Penalties for reckless vehicular homicide would be between $5,000 and $15,000 in fines and up to 15 years in prison, up from $1,000 to $5,000 and 10 years.
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, agreed there is “nothing to fill the gap between reckless driving and reckless homicide doing the same thing.” The action is the same. The only difference between jail time and a several-hundred-dollar traffic fine is whether the victim lives or dies, he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee decided to postpone a vote.
Sen. Ronnie Sabb, D-Greeleyville, questioned whether the bill over-criminalizes conduct if the driver didn’t intend to injure anyone.
“I just have a philosophical problem,” he said.
Supporters said the bill doesn’t prosecute negligent driving. Reckless driving is defined as driving in conscious disregard for others’ safety.
“Crossing yellow lines is not reckless in criminal law. Traveling 80 mph down a 30 mph street is reckless, no question,” said Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, the former solicitor for Horry and Georgetown counties.