motorcycle helmet laws in south carolinaSouth Carolina is one of the few states that doesn’t require motorcycle riders above the age of 21 to wear a helmet. While these laws seem straightforward, they often raise questions when it comes to seeking damages after a motorcycle wreck, especially if the rider sustained a brain injury in the collision.

In this article, I hope to clear up common misconceptions by answering questions we often hear about South Carolina’s motorcycle helmet laws.


State Motorcycle Helmet Laws

The South Carolina motorcycle helmet laws only apply to drivers under the age of 21. Any driver age 20 or younger who fails to wear a helmet while operating a motorcycle can be ticketed and fined. At the age of 21, however, motorcycle riders can wear helmets at their discretion.

South Carolina previously had a universal helmet law, requiring motorcycle riders of all ages to wear a helmet while operating their vehicles. This law was enacted in 1967, but changed in 1980 to only apply to drivers under 21.

Despite South Carolina motorcycle helmet laws, if you suffered a TBI in a motorcycle accident, insurance adjusters may argue that your failure to wear a helmet contributed to the severity of the brain injury. The adjuster may argue that as a result, the injured biker’s recovery should be limited. When dealing with the insurance company - on top of a traumatic brain injury - hiring an experienced motorcycle accident attorney may be of great help in the negotiations.


South Carolina DOT Motorcycle Helmet Standards

According to the South Carolina Department of Transportation, motorcycle helmets must meet certain regulations in order to be labeled "DOT compliant." These rules are in place to protect riders from concussions and other head injuries in the event of an accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 1,859 lives were saved in 2016 because of motorcycle helmets.

To be sold in the United States, motorcycle helmets must comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. FMVSS 218 sets minimum levels of thickness, impact protection and absorption to help prevent brain injury or death in a motorcycle accident.

According to the rules, motorcycle helmets must:

  • Contain a thick inner lining – The inner lining of all helmets should be firm and measure about one inch in thickness.
  • Have substantial weight – Helmets need to weigh about three pounds to be considered safe.
  • Have a chin strap and rivets – All motorcycle helmets should have a proper retention system to keep the helmet in place. This typically includes a chin strap that is properly secured to the helmet.
  • Include a manufacturer sticker – All DOT compliant motorcycle helmets must be labeled to include the manufacturer’s name, the model, the size, the month/year it was manufactured, its materials, and instructions for the owner.

Helmet manufacturers are responsible for testing their products and ensuring compliance. Once a helmet meets all FMVSS regulations, it must be sold with a DOT sticker. Each year, SCDOT performs compliance tests to ensure manufacturers are abiding by the rules and regulations. The results of those tests are posted on the SCDOT’s public website.

Non-compliant motorcycle helmets often fail to protect riders from head trauma in the event of a wreck. If you were hurt in a motorcycle accident in South Carolina and suspect your helmet did not properly protect you, we’re here to answer any questions you may have.


Can I Still File A Lawsuit After A Motorcycle Accident If I Wasn’t Wearing A Helmet?

The short answer is “yes,” but allow me to explain. It’s something no rider likes to think about, but the fact remains that riding a motorcycle carries an inherent level of danger, and accidents can cause devastating injuries. Even the most careful rider on the road can’t always account for the behavior of other drivers. Sooner or later, another vehicle may cause a crash with a motorcyclist, and the rider may not be wearing a helmet in South Carolina. In situations like this, one of the biggest questions that attorneys get asked is from victims who wonder if they can still bring a legal action against the other driver for the accident.

Your lack of a helmet is not considered an act of negligence if you are 21 or older because you have no duty to wear a helmet. So, the answer to whether you can file a lawsuit is a qualified “yes,” regardless of your age. You can absolutely file an action against another driver whose negligence or recklessness caused your motorcycle accident, even if you weren’t wearing a helmet.


Comparative Negligence and Motorcycle Crashes in South Carolina

When the other driver offers a challenge to your lawsuit, South Carolina follows a type of law called “comparative negligence” to determine who is responsible for the injuries and other damages. What this means is that under South Carolina law, even if you are found partially responsible for the crash, you are still eligible to receive compensation, so long as you can demonstrate that the other driver (or drivers) were more than 50 percent responsible for the accident.

When determining your final compensation under comparative negligence rules, the judgment or settlement will be reduced based on how much liability you are found to have for your injuries. For example, if the court finds that the other driver is 80 percent responsible for the accident and that you are responsible for the remaining 20 percent, your award will be reduced by 20 percent. In this situation, if you received a $500,000 verdict from the jury, it would be reduced to $400,000. However, if you were found to be over 50 percent liable, you would not be eligible to receive any compensation at all.


Get Help from a South Carolina Motorcycle Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been in a motorcycle accident, don’t hesitate to reach out to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An attorney can help you protect your legal rights in an accident and determine if you are able to recover damages from the person or business responsible for your accident.

Even if you are under 21 and in violation of our state’s helmet laws, you may still be due compensation. Our attorneys are here to listen to your story and answer any questions you may have about your accident and how South Carolina helmet laws may affect your case. Contact us via live chat, contact form, or by calling our Columbia office at 803-790-2800 or our Myrtle Beach office at 843-427-2800.

Kenneth Berger
Connect with me
Columbia and Myrtle Beach car accident and personal injury lawyer dedicated to securing justice for clients.