If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of South Carolina, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of South Carolina statutes in each section.
Here are the South Carolina car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation: the driver of a vehicle must yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger. No pedestrian is permitted to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
No pedestrian must cross any roadway within any business district or designated highways except within a crosswalk.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever special pedestrian control signals exhibiting the words “Walk” or “Wait” are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:
- Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
- Wait. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.
Pedestrians can cross an intersection diagonally only when it is authorized by traffic-control devices.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway.
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on its shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle crossing a sidewalk must yield the right of way to any pedestrian on the sidewalk.
Drivers to Exercise Due Care
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian or human-powered vehicle upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or an obviously incapacitated person.
Pedestrians Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian who is obviously incapacitated.
A pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol, or any drug, to a degree which renders them a hazard shall not walk or be upon a highway except a sidewalk.
Sections 56-5-3230 and 56-5-3270
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver., unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Sections 56-5-730, 56-5-740 and 56-5-90
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- Upon a roadway with three marked lanes for traffic
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane.
Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within two hundred (200) feet of oncoming traffic.
No vehicle is permitted to drive on the left side of the roadway under the following conditions:
- When approaching or upon the crest of a grade or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed and creates a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction.
- When approaching within one hundred (100) feet of any intersection.
- When the view is obstructed upon approaching within one hundred (100) feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel.
Sections 56-5-1860 and 56-5-1880
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices
Drivers must not drive while using a handheld mobile electronic device, except for the sole purpose of calling emergency services. Drivers are permitted to use hands-free wireless electronic devices.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers on the roadway to be crossed.
Section 56-5-2350 and 56-5-2745
Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.Unlike drivers, pedalcyclists are permitted to ride on the shoulder of the road.
Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic
Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
All motorcyclists under the age of twenty-one (21) must wear helmets and, if no windscreen is installed, must wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.
Sections 56-5-3670, 56-5-3660, and 56-5-3680
Motorcycles and Headlights
From thirty minutes after sunset until thirty minutes before sunrise, every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one (1) and not more than two (2) lighted headlights turned on.
Sections 56-5-4450, 56-5-4460, 56-5-4470, and 56-5-4490
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or higher.
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving and must upon request, exhibit their driver’s license to any person injured in the accident, or to the driver and passengers.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 56-5-1230.
Section 56-5-1230 reads in part that the driver must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving, and must upon request exhibit their driver’s license to any person injured in the accident or to the driver and passengers of the car involved in the accident.
Sections 56-5-1210 and 56-5-1230
Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car which is driven or attended by any person must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 56-5-1230.
Sections 56-5-1220 and 56-5-1230
Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property
A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.
Once located the driver who caused the accident must give their name, address, and the name and address of the owner of the car being driven.
If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name, address, and the name and address of the car being driven.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office or the county sheriff or the nearest office of the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
The driver or owner of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage of one thousand ($1,000) dollars or more which was not investigated by a law enforcement officer, must forward a written report and proof of liability insurance to the Department of Motor Vehicles within fifteen (15) days after the accident.
If the driver of a vehicle is physically incapable of making an immediate report of an accident and there was another occupant in the vehicle at the time of the accident who is capable of making a report, this occupant must report the accident.
Whenever the driver is physically incapable of making a written report and the driver is not the owner of the vehicle, then the owner of the vehicle must report the accident within five (5) days after learning of the accident.
Sections 56-5-1260, 56-5-1270 and 56-5-1280
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
The police officer who investigates an accident that resulted in injury, death, or property damage of one thousand ($1,000) dollars or more must forward a written report to the Department of Motor Vehicles within twenty-four (24) hours of completing the investigation.
Accident Report Forms
The Department of Public Safety must prepare and upon request supply to police departments, coroners, sheriffs, garages and other suitable agencies or individuals accident report forms.
Open Alcohol Container Law
It is unlawful to transport an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle, except in a trunk, luggage compartment, or cargo area that is separate and distinct from the driver’s and passengers’ compartments.
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In South Carolina, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 or higher.
Sections 56-5-2930 and 56-5-2933
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
South Carolina and Dram Shop Law
South Carolina applies Dram Shop Law but does not have specific statutes that refer to it. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
In the past, South Carolina courts have allowed the use of dram shop liability claims, such as in the following cases: Jamison v. The Pantry Inc; Steele v. Rogers; and Hartfield v. The Getaway Lounge and Grill, Inc.
NCSL Webpage on Dram Shop Law
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of South Carolina, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two (2) or more people
- $25,000 per occurrence for property damage
South Carolina Insurance Information
For information about insurance requirements in South Carolina, see the Department of Motor Vehicles website.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In South Carolina, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.
If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a handheld mobile device while driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a handheld mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 15-38-15
Right of Way: Section 56-5-2320
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 56-5-3890
South Carolina’s No Fault Car Insurance
In South Carolina, auto liability insurance policies are mandatory and contain liability insurance for bodily injury, liability insurance for property damage, uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage.
Bodily injury liability insurance covers costs to the no-fault driver for injuries caused in an accident, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Property damage liability insurance covers costs to the no-fault driver for any damage caused by the accident, including damages to other vehicles, buildings, walls, fences, equipment, etc.
Uninsured motorists coverage covers costs to the at-fault driver for bodily injury and property damaged.
The person not-at-fault for the accident can pursue a claim against the driver at fault for damages.
Statute of Limitations
South Carolina has a three (3) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a lawsuit within three (3) years following the accident.
Small Claims Courts
In South Carolina, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. In South Carolina, the jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $7,500. To submit a claim in small claims court, visit the South Carolina Judicial Department website.
South Carolina Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In South Carolina, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.
If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
If Melissa, an engineer with the Charleston Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Charleston would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Charleston can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.
To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
South Carolina places a cap on the amount of that can be recovered in a claim against a government agency or its employees to the maximum amount of liability insurance coverage.