Who’s liable when a bike and motor vehicle collide?
The subtropical climate, ocean views, and hundreds of miles of multi-use trails would seem to make South Carolina a paradise for bicyclists. However, South Carolina is considered one of the least bike-friendly states in the country due in large part to the high number of fatal bicycle accidents every year.
In this article, we’ll take a look at bicycle accidents in the Palmetto State, including the laws that govern bicycle use and the parties who may be liable for a bike accident.
Bicycle accident statistics
In the United States, more than 2 people are killed on a bicycle every day.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are roughly 21.1 bike-accident fatalities per 10,000 bike commuters every year in the Palmetto State.
Of course, not every bike accident results in a fatality, but a vast majority result in injury. On average there are 508 reported bicycle crashes every year in South Carolina. Of these crashes:
- Approximately 3% result in fatalities
- Approximately 91% result in injuries
- Approximately 7% result in property damage only
South Carolina bike use laws
South Carolina requires bicyclists to follow the same rules and regulations as motor vehicle drivers. This means that bicyclists are required to stop for traffic lights and stop signs.
Bicycle-specific laws are detailed in the South Carolina Code of Laws 56-5-3410 to 56-5-3515. Some of the highlights include:
- Bicyclists must ride in a bike lane when available except when necessary to pass another person riding a bicycle or avoid an obstruction.
- A motor vehicle may not block a bike lane and must yield to bicyclists before entering or crossing a bike lane.
- Bicyclists must ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable.
- Bicyclists must not ride more than 2 abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
- A motor vehicle driver must maintain a safe operating distance at all times between the motor vehicle and the bicycle.
- It is unlawful to harass, taunt, or maliciously throw an object at or in the direction of a person riding a bicycle.
- Bicyclists may not carry anything that prevents them from keeping at least 1 hand on the handlebars.
- A bicycle, when in use at nighttime, must be equipped with a lamp on the front which must emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet and a red reflector on the rear that must be visible from all distances from 50 to 300 feet.
- A bicyclist must indicate a right turn by extending their left arm upward, by raising their left arm to the square, or by extending their right arm horizontally to the right. A bicyclist must indicate a left turn by extending their left arm horizontally. A bicyclist must indicate stopping or decreasing speed by extending their left arm or their right arm downward.
Bicycle helmet laws in South Carolina
In South Carolina, bicyclists are not required by law to wear helmets.
With that being said, research has consistently shown that wearing a bike helmet greatly reduces the risk of serious head injury and death. Over a 10-year period, 78% of adult bicyclists and 88% of young riders who suffered head and neck injuries were not wearing helmets, according to a study published in the journal of Brain Injury.
What about electric bikes?
The popularity of electric bicycles (“e-bikes”) has soared in recent years. According to a 2018 bicycle industry analysis, e-bikes now make up 10% of overall bike sales in the United States.
Most e-bikes are “pedal-assist,” meaning the rider must be pedaling for the electric motor to engage. Some e-bikes, however, are equipped with a throttle that allows the bike to be propelled without pedaling.
South Carolina is one of a handful of states that do NOT have any laws specifically addressing e-bikes. As a result, an e-bike might be considered an electric personal assistive mobility device, a bicycle, a moped, or a passenger car under the law depending on the specific design of the e-bike.
The lack of clear regulation has made it virtually impossible for e-bike riders to know what laws they’re supposed to follow. Organizations, such as PeopleForBikes, have recognized this problem and lobbied for states to pass model e-bike legislation. Thus far, 12 states have adopted the model legislation.
Notably, the federal government has defined and regulated e-bikes. However, federal laws only address the safety standards e-bikes must meet.
Who’s at fault for a bicycle accident in South Carolina?
Most personal injury claims made by bicyclists against motor vehicle drivers are negligence claims. To prove negligence in South Carolina, a bicyclist must prove that:
- The driver owed the bicyclist a duty. All drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road.
- The driver breached their duty. To prove that a driver breached their duty, the bicyclist will have to show that the driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care. One way to do this is to show that a driver violated a statute (such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, or driving while texting).
- The bicyclist was injured as a result of the driver’s breach. It’s not enough that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care, the bicyclist must prove that this specific failure was the cause of the accident.
The defendant was driving his motor vehicle west on Berkley Avenue. A stop sign was present on Berkley Avenue at its intersection with Franklin Road.
The defendant stopped at the stop sign and then pulled into the intersection, striking the rear portion of the plaintiff’s bicycle and throwing the plaintiff against the pavement. The defendant admitted that he never saw the plaintiff and that he was watching the vehicles traveling east when he entered the intersection.
Nevertheless, the defendant argued that the plaintiff was at fault for the accident because he did not have lights on his bike. The accident happened at 5:20 p.m. The afternoon was cloudy and the streets were wet, but it wasn’t raining. The sun did not set for at least 1 hour after the accident. As a result, the jury determined that the lack of lights was not the cause of the accident. Rather, the defendant’s failure to look both ways was the cause of the accident.
The jury ruled in favor of the bicyclist.
Of course, not all accidents are caused by motor vehicle drivers. Other responsible parties might include:
- Bicyclists. Just like drivers, bicyclists owe others on the road a duty to exercise reasonable care.
- Pedestrians. Just like drivers and bicyclists, pedestrians owe others on the road a duty to exercise reasonable care.
- Towns or cities. Premises liability laws require property owners to maintain their property free from dangerous conditions. If a bicyclist is injured as a result of a dangerous condition (such as a large pothole or missing stop sign), the owner of the property (often the town or city in the case of a public road) can be held liable.
- Manufacturers. If a bicycle accident is caused by a defective product (such as a brake that fails to engage), the manufacturer may be liable.
Comparative fault in South Carolina
Sometimes both the bicyclist and the motor vehicle driver are at fault for an accident.
South Carolina is a modified comparative fault state, meaning that the plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is considered more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.
What to do if you’ve been in a bike crash
Step 1: Get medical help
Your health should be your first priority. What’s more, South Carolina law requires anyone involved in an accident to call 9-1-1 if someone is injured.
Keep in mind that injuries don’t always show symptoms right away. Even if you don’t think you’ve been injured, it’s a good idea to get yourself checked out by a doctor.
Be sure to keep track of all your medical expenses, as well as the day-to-day impact of your injuries. Good record-keeping can help ensure you recover the damages you deserve. The following resources can help:
Step 2: Call the police
The police will conduct a minor investigation and write a report that could support your injury claim. What’s more, the police can help diffuse the all-too-common instances of road rage between motor vehicle drivers and bicyclists after an accident.
Step 3: Gather evidence
Witnesses are notoriously difficult to locate after an accident. If you’re able to do so safely, gather the contact information of anyone at the scene who may have witnessed any part of the accident. Additionally, you’ll want to take photographs of the scene of the accident and any physical injuries or property damage.
Step 4: Notify your insurance company
Your auto insurance policy may cover bicycle accidents. Review your policy to see if coverage exists and contact your auto insurance company if you have any questions.
Step 5: Meet with a personal injury attorney
Most initial consultations are free, so it’s almost always a good idea to meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options.