The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that motorcycle riders remain overrepresented among catastrophic traffic crashes in the country. Figures for 2021 show that there were 5,932 motorcyclists killed. Meanwhile, in 2022, South Carolina witnessed 3,893 motorcycle crashes on the state's roadways, 154 of which resulted in fatalities.
Speeding, driving under the influence, disobeying road signs, and running red lights are some of the common causes of motorcycle accidents in the state. Among the most hazardous intersections and highways for motorcyclists, bicyclists, other motor vehicle operators, and pedestrians based on statistics from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety are Ashley Phosphate Road and Interstate 26; I-26 Exit 203 at College Park Road; Highway 501 and Carolina Forest Boulevard; and U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. 544 near Surfside Beach.
South Carolina's Target Zero strategy aims to eradicate traffic injuries and fatalities across the state. To guarantee the safety of road users, legislators and authorities have enacted laws and regulations covering motor vehicles. This article discusses South Carolina motorcycle traffic laws and minimum insurance requirements. It also tackles personal injury liability rules for motorcycle riders, crash victims, and plaintiffs.
South Carolina Motorcycle Helmet Laws
According to Section 56-5-3660 of the Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways, any person under the age of 21 in South Carolina is prohibited from operating or riding on a two-wheeled motorized vehicle unless they wear a Department of Public Safety-approved protective helmet with a neck or chin strap and reflectors on both sides. Those who violate this legislation could face a fine of up to $100 and be imprisoned for up to 30 days. The law, on the other hand, allows motorcycle drivers or passengers 21 or older to ride without wearing a helmet. It is, however, important to remember that when riding out of state, North Carolina and Georgia enforce universal motorcycle helmet laws.
Motorcyclists who do not wear helmets are at much higher risk of suffering catastrophic head injuries and death in accidents. In South Carolina, 92 (67%) of the 137 motorcycle accident fatalities involved unhelmeted riders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remarked that a universal helmet law is the "single most effective way for states to save lives."
South Carolina Motorcycle Licensing Laws
Before riding on public highways in South Carolina, motorcycle riders must get a specific license (Class M). Those who want to learn how to operate a motorcycle on public roadways must first apply for a beginner's permit, which allows them to ride unattended during daylight hours or accompanied by a full motorcycle license holder when riding at night. Before they can apply for a permit, they should be at least 15 years old and have passed knowledge and vision tests. Applicants under 18 must submit a Consent for Minor form signed by any of the licensed individuals specified in SC Code Section 56-1-100(A)(1-7).
Meanwhile, motor vehicle operators with a valid driver’s license may attempt to pass the motorcycle knowledge and road skills test at any SCDMV branch without getting a permit first. If they pass the exams, they will be able to add a motorcycle endorsement to their driver's license. Motorcycles in South Carolina must also be registered and titled. Riders who drive without a license may be fined and subjected to jail time.
South Carolina Red Light Laws
South Carolina drivers must abide by the state's standard and flashing red light regulations. Standard red lights require them to come to a complete stop before any intersection and remain behind the appropriate stop line until the light turns green. A flashing red light, on the other hand, indicates that riders must come to a complete stop before the light. They may then go through the intersection, yielding to any motorist or pedestrian with the right of way. State law enables motorcycle and bicycle riders to pass across an intersection on a steady red light if they come to a complete stop for 120 seconds (Two Minute Law) and exercise due care.
Despite the simple regulations governing traffic signals, accidents still occur at intersections. Drivers either run a red light to avoid stopping at an intersection or fail to yield in compliance with traffic signal laws. Speeding due to being late and careless driving are two factors that contribute to traffic light rule breaches. Those who violate the guidelines will face a maximum punishment of $100, but anyone who harms or kills someone will face reckless driving or vehicular homicide charges.
South Carolina Lane Splitting Laws
Lane splitting, which happens when motorcyclists operate between lanes of traffic or adjacent lines or rows of automobiles, is illegal in South Carolina. Riders generally do this to escape congested locations, particularly when the traffic is slow-moving or entirely halted. Some experts believe that lane splitting is dangerous because it puts motorcyclists in a position where motor vehicle drivers are less likely to look for them.
South Carolina Speeding Laws
Motorcyclists in the state are mandated to follow the state's absolute speed limits and basic speeding laws. Drivers are obliged to drive at a speed that is safe given the current driving conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit. In addition, mopeds are not permitted to exceed a speed limit of 25 mph and cannot be driven on public roads with posted speed limits of 55 mph or higher. The table below shows the maximum speed limits in South Carolina posted in various zones:
interstate highways and other freeways
multilane, divided primary highways
most locations (other than those specified above)
urban districts (including residential and business areas)
15 mph/25 mph
Those who violate the state's speeding laws may be punished with fines and jail sentences. Riders who injure or kill another road user due to negligence can be convicted of reckless driving or reckless vehicular homicide.
South Carolina Driving Under the Influence Laws
The consumption of alcoholic beverages before operating a motorcycle is prohibited under state legislation. Riders may be charged with DUI if they operate a motorcycle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher. Because the BAC limitations in South Carolina are for per se violations, motorcyclists can be charged regardless of whether other proofs are present. If any alcohol is found in the system of drivers under the age of 21, they will automatically face DUI charges. Law enforcement may also charge riders with a BAC lower than the legal limit if evidence proves that their driving skill is "materially and appreciably impaired" by alcohol.
South Carolina lost 126 lives due to drunk driving in 2020, with 29% recording a BAC of 0.08% and 18% recording a BAC of 0.15%. Those found in violation of DUI rules will face fines of up to $400 and up to 30 days in jail, as well as license suspension or revocation. When an offender repeats the same violation numerous times, the sanctions get more severe.
South Carolina Motorcycle Insurance Requirements
Insurance products protect consumers by covering specific risks and compensating for financial losses incurred as a result of these risks. In South Carolina, all registered vehicles and motorcycles must be insured. State law requires motorcycle owners and riders to obtain the same minimum liability insurance as other motor vehicle operators, divided into liability and physical damage coverages.
Under the state's tort law, a motorcyclist's policy should include liability insurance for bodily injury, liability insurance for property damage, and uninsured motorist coverage. Meanwhile, physical damage insurance coverage, which protects policyholders against damage to their motorcycles, is optional. Those who drive without proof of financial responsibility may face penalties, including suspension of their driving privilege, vehicle registration, and license plate. The table below shows the insurance coverage a rider must or may purchase before operating a motorcycle.
Bodily Injury Liability
shields policyholders from claims made by anyone hurt in an accident in which they were at fault
$25,000 per person for bodily injury
$50,000 for all people injured in one accident
Property Damage Liability
compensates for any damage the policyholder has caused to the property of others, such as bikes, cars, equipment, buildings, walls, and fences
$25,000 for all property damage in one accident
pays if the policyholder is hurt or their property is damaged following an accident caused by a hit-and-run or uninsured driver
The coverage should be equal to the minimum amounts of bodily injury and property damage liability coverage.
covers a policyholder for injuries or property damage if the at-fault driver's policy does not have enough coverage to pay their damages or hospital expenses
pays for physical damage to a policyholder's motorcycle following a collision with another motor vehicle or a tree
While not mandated by law, a motorcycle owner's lender may require collision and comprehensive coverage.
covers the damage to a policyholder's motorcycle from fire, flooding, theft, vandalism, collision with animals, and falling objects
Other Optional Coverages
pays for the medical costs incurred by the policyholder and their passenger
Enhanced Injury Protection
can offer a weekly payment of as much as $250 for up to two years if the policyholder was injured in a covered accident that prevents them from working
Total Loss Coverage
compensates for the entire value of a policyholder's bike in the event of a total loss
Accessories and Custom Parts/Equipment
pays for bike customizations, upgrades, equipment, and accessories
provides coverage for personal effects or other belongings a policyholder carries on their bike if it’s damaged, stolen, or lost
pays for a tow to the closest mechanic
Motorcycle owners shopping for insurance policies can visit the state's Department of Insurance official website for additional information on how insurance rates are determined, tips on lowering insurance premiums, and things to know about buying insurance.
South Carolina Is a Fault State for Insurance Claims
When it comes to insurance claims following a motorcycle accident, South Carolina enforces a fault system. This means the person who caused the accident may be held financially liable for all injuries, fatalities, and property damage resulting from the incident. At-fault parties in South Carolina motorcycle accidents are expected to have a minimum level of insurance coverage in order to pay victims.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident in South Carolina
South Carolina allows plaintiffs to recover compensatory damages—economic and non-economic—as well as punitive damages. Economic damages are losses that can be substantiated by bills, invoices, or receipts. Hospital fees, lost wages, and property repair costs are some examples of this kind of damages. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are general damages that cannot be calculated. These include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish. Furthermore, punitive damages are intended to punish or deter the defendant from committing similar behavior in the future.
There is no established settlement amount that a motorcycle accident victim can get. Every injury claim is evaluated based on factors such as the severity of the injuries, the clarity of who caused the accident, and the availability of insurance coverage to pay a settlement value.
In South Carolina, certain kinds of damages that can be recovered are capped. Punitive damages are limited to $500,000, or three times the amount of the actual damages. Under this rule, the greater value will be followed. Furthermore, when a plaintiff sues the government or government officials, the damages they can get are capped at $300,000 per person or $600,000 per incident.
South Carolina Is a Modified Comparative Fault State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits
When it comes to personal injury cases, including motorcycle accidents, South Carolina applies a modified comparative fault structure. The rule states that the plaintiff's damages are reduced by their share of fault. Plaintiffs are eligible for compensation if they are less than 51% at fault for an accident. For example, a wounded person in a motorcycle accident judged to be 53% at fault will not be able to receive any damages. If the plaintiff is found 30% liable for the accident, they are entitled to 70% of the total amount of damages. If a judge or jury awards $200,000 in total damages, the victim will only receive $140,000.
South Carolina Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents
Individuals injured in motorcycle accidents have three years from the date of the incident to file a personal injury claim. Surviving families of victims who died in an accident should also bring a case within the three-year statute of limitations against defendants. If a claim is not submitted within the time frame specified, plaintiffs lose their right to bargain or collect reasonable compensation. Minors who have been harmed in an accident are exempt from the rule; for them, the clock will not start ticking until they reach the age of 18. Seeking the assistance of an experienced accident lawyer will help plaintiffs navigate the legal process.
Legal Resources for South Carolina Motorcycle Accident Victims
The South Carolina Bar connects people with qualified, prescreened lawyers who can assist them with their legal problems. Its LRS directs clients to attorneys who specialize in various fields of law, such as personal injury and criminal defense. Each lawyer who takes part agrees to charge at most $50 for a 30-minute consultation. If the consultation lasts longer than 30 minutes or the lawyer gets hired to represent the client, the client will be charged the lawyer's standard fees. Clients can get a referral by calling 1-800-868-2284 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Those in Lexington and Richland counties should contact 799-7100. Additionally, an online referral service is available 24/7.
This is a private, nonprofit program that encourages local attorneys to provide pro bono legal services in their communities. Those seeking volunteer lawyers must meet federally mandated poverty standards. They can find out if they qualify by calling 1-800-395-3425. The South Carolina Bar's official website has more information on the program.
Citizens in South Carolina can get copies of their court documents through the state's Judicial Branch Offices. However, payments for traffic, criminal, or parking citations are not accepted at the offices. Violators should contact the court in the county where the ticket was issued, or they can pay online. More information concerning court orders, court rules, e-filing, filing costs, and other topics can be found on the South Carolina Judicial Branch's official website.
Individuals involved in a traffic accident can request a copy of the collision report online or in person. They can fill out the Request for Copy of Collision Report (SCDMV Form FR-50) and take it to any South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles branch office. They can also mail the form to the address specified on the form. Applicants will be able to obtain an official copy of a collision report only if one is available. The charge for each report is $6.
The Department of Insurance protects consumers, the public interest, and the insurance marketplace by enforcing the state's insurance regulations. Insurance owners may file an insurance complaint and report suspected fraud on the department's website. For more information about the various types of insurance, consumers may reach out to the Office of Consumer Services at 803-737-6180.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators prepared the guidebook as a supplement to the state's driver's manual, which covers regulations on the road, signals, signs, roadway markings, and safe driving practices. It also includes useful information on motorcycle rider licensure, vehicle management skills, street techniques, and other topics.
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