South Carolina Guide to Motorcycle Accidents

Learn the motorcycle-specific laws you need to follow

Motorcycle wrecks are like other vehicle accidents in many ways, but there are certain factors that make motorcycle crashes unique. Learn about motorcycle-specific laws in South Carolina, and find out how to establish liability after a motorcycle accident.

Given South Carolina's subtropical climate and scenic backroads, it's not surprising that more than 115,000 motorcycles are registered in the state.

Motorcycles are one of the most enjoyable ways to get around the Palmetto State, but they're also one of the most dangerous ways to travel. In the United States, motorcycles account for roughly 14% of all crash-related fatalities, even though they represent only 3% of the vehicles on the road.

In this article, we'll look at motorcycle accidents in South Carolina, including the laws you need to know about and how you can establish liability after a motorcycle wreck.

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South Carolina motorcycle laws

In general, every person operating a motorcycle has the same rights and duties as all other motor vehicle drivers. There are, however, certain motorcycle-specific laws that you should know about.

South Carolina's motorcycle-specific laws can be found in Title 56, Chapter 5, Article 29 of the South Carolina Code of Laws. Here are some of the highlights:

  • No person shall operate a motorcycle while carrying anything that prevents them from keeping both hands on the handlebars.
  • Only 1 person shall ride on a motorcycle unless the motorcycle is specifically designed for 2 or more people.
  • Any motorcycle carrying a passenger must be equipped with footrests for the passenger.
  • Motorcyclists are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such a manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane.
  • No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles (i.e. lane splitting is strictly prohibited).
  • Motorcycles shall not be operated more than 2 abreast in a single lane.
  • Helmets must be worn by motorcyclists and passengers under the age of 21.
  • Goggles and face shields must be worn by motorcyclists under the age of 21.

A motorcyclist violating any of the above provisions is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $100 or be imprisoned for up to 30 days.

What is the legal alcohol limit when operating a motorcycle in South Carolina?

You'll receive a citation for driving under the influence (DUI) if you're operating a motorcycle and your blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher. If you're under the age of 21, you'll receive a DUI if any alcohol is found in your system.

It's important to recognize that these BAC limits are for per se violations. In other words, if your BAC is above the legal limit, you can be charged with a DUI regardless of whether there's any additional evidence.

However, you can be charged with a DUI even if your BAC is BELOW the legal limit if evidence suggests that your driving ability is "materially and appreciably impaired" due to alcohol.

Establishing liability after a motorcycle accident

Every vehicle operator, whether they're a motorcyclist, motor vehicle driver, or bicyclist, has a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others on the road. If a vehicle operator breaches this duty and a collision results, the operator can be held liable.

The legal theory used to hold the at-fault party liable is negligence, and it requires the plaintiff to establish 3 elements:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care,
  2. The defendant breached their duty of care, and
  3. The breach was the cause of the plaintiff's injuries.
Enjuris tip: Learn how to file a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina.

Though motorcycle wrecks are usually caused by a motorcyclist, motor vehicle driver, or bicyclist, that's not always the case. There are a couple of other parties who may be liable for your accident:

  • Property owners. Premises liability laws require that property owners maintain their property free of dangerous conditions. If a motorcyclist is injured as a result of a dangerous condition on someone's property (such as a large pothole), the property owner may be liable.
  • Manufacturers. Product liability laws require that manufacturers avoid letting defective products hit the marketplace. If a motorcyclist crashes as a result of a defective product (such as a fractured frame), the manufacturer of the product may be held liable.

In some cases, the plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident. South Carolina follows the modified comparative fault rule, which reduces the plaintiff's damages by their percentage of fault. Moreover, if the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.


Real Life Example: Bradford Oliver was traveling on his motorcycle in the outside lane of Highway 76/501 in Florence, South Carolina. A truck was also traveling on Highway 76/501, but on the inside lane. When the truck abruptly changed lanes in front of Bradford, his motorcycle collided with the right front fender of the truck.

The impact caused Bradford to leave the roadway, cross the sidewalk, and strike a Lincoln Town Car parked in Tucker's Used Car lot. The Lincoln was parked facing the roadway with its front bumper extending over the edge of the sidewalk.

As a result of the impact, Bradford suffered a serious spinal injury that resulted in permanent paraplegia. Bradford sued the owner of the used car lot and the South Carolina Highway Department for failing to keep the right-of-way clear. During the trial, Bradford's attorney introduced testimony that used cars had been positioned over the right-of-way for years and that 3 previous accidents occurred at the site when motorists collided with the used cars.

The jury awarded Bradford damages in the amount of $3.25 million.

Is insurance required for motorcycles in South Carolina?

South Carolina law requires motorcycles to be insured with the same minimum liability insurance as other motor vehicles. This includes:

  • Liability insurance for bodily injury. This type of insurance protects you against the claims of other people who are injured in an accident for which you were at fault. South Carolina requires motorcyclists to carry a minimum of $25,000 per person and $50,000 for all persons injured in 1 accident.
  • Liability insurance for property damage. This type of insurance pays for any damage you cause to the property (vehicles, buildings, fences, etc.) of others. South Carolina requires motorcyclists to carry a minimum of $25,000 for all property damage in 1 accident.

All other insurance is optional. Common optional insurance coverage includes:

  • Collision coverage pays for physical damage to your motorcycle as a result of an accident with another car or object.
  • Comprehensive coverage pays for damage to your motorcycle caused by fire, vandalism, flooding, theft, falling objects, collisions with animals, and damage to windshields.
  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage pays for injuries or property damage if the at-fault driver doesn't have insurance or doesn't have enough insurance. This type of coverage can also be used to pay your bills in the event of a hit-and-run where the other driver cannot be located.

Damages available in a motorcycle crash lawsuit

Motorcycle accidents tend to result in more damage than car accidents for 3 reasons:

  1. Motorcycles offer less protection than cars
  2. Motorcyclists are more likely to be thrown from their vehicle
  3. Motorcycles are less stable than cars
Facing facts According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,985 motorcyclists were killed and 82,000 were injured in the United States in 2018. In South Carolina, 130 motorcyclists were killed in 2018.

In South Carolina, motorcyclists can recover 3 types of damages after a wreck:

  • Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
  • Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the accident (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
  • Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly
Enjuris tip: Learn more about the types of damages available in South Carolina, including the situations in which your damages may be capped.

Motorcycle safety checklist

The NHTSA provides some useful tips for staying safe on a motorcycle:

  • Make sure you're properly licensed. Riding a motorcycle requires different skills and knowledge than driving a car. Make sure you've taken the necessary tests to obtain proper licensing.
  • Practice operating your motorcycle. All motorcycles handle differently. Be sure to take the time to get accustomed to the feel of your motorcycle by riding it in a controlled area (such as a parking lot) before taking it on the highway.
  • Inspect your motorcycle before you ride. Before you ride, check your tire pressure and tread depth, hand and foot brakes, headlights and signal indicators, and fluid levels.
  • Wear an approved helmet. Always wear a helmet that meets the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218. (Hint: Look for the DOT symbol on the outside back of the helmet.)
  • Ride responsibly. The majority of multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes are caused when other drivers don't see the motorcyclist. Proceed cautiously at intersections and yield to pedestrians and other vehicles as appropriate. Increase your visibility by applying reflective materials to your motorcycle and keeping your headlights on at all times.
Have you been in a motorcycle accident? Use our free online directory to locate an experienced personal injury attorney in South Carolina. Most initial consultations are free.

Did you know that motorcycle accident law varies by state?

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