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Does SC Have a Motorcycle Helmet Law?

| Jul 14, 2021 | Motorcycle Accidents

SC has a motorcycle helmet law, but it only applies to riders under the age of 21 – if you are 21 or older, you are not required to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle in the state of SC.

How does this affect your personal injury case if you were involved in a motorcycle crash? Below, we will discuss SC’s motorcycle helmet law and its effect on motorcycle accident cases, including:

  • What SC’s motorcycle helmet law says,
  • Whether the City of Myrtle Beach has its own motorcycle helmet law,
  • Whether the failure to wear a helmet can result in a finding of comparative negligence, and
  • Whether the failure to wear a helmet is considered assumption of the risk under SC law.

SC’s Motorcycle Helmet Law Only Applies to Riders Under 21

SC’s motorcycle helmet law requires riders under the age of 21 to wear a motorcycle helmet:

It shall be unlawful for any person under the age of twenty-one to operate or ride upon a two-wheeled motorized vehicle unless he wears a protective helmet of a type approved by the Department of Public Safety. Such a helmet must be equipped with either a neck or chin strap and be reflectorized on both sides thereof. The department is hereby authorized to adopt and amend regulations covering the types of helmets and the specifications therefor and to establish and maintain a list of approved helmets which meet the specifications as established hereunder.

There is no such requirement for adults 21 and older – although surrounding states like NC require riders to wear a helmet, SC has opted for personal freedom over forced safety measures.

SC’s statewide motorcycle helmet law applies everywhere in the state of SC – including every county and every municipality, and including the City of Myrtle Beach

Does Myrtle Beach Have a Motorcycle Helmet Law?

The City of Myrtle Beach, as part of a series of municipal ordinances seen by many as an attempt to harass and discourage attendance at the area’s yearly motorcycle rallies, passed a law requiring all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

Although the City styled the law as an “infraction” that did not carry jail time as a potential penalty, the SC Supreme Court held that the City’s ordinance was preempted by SC’s statewide motorcycle helmet law and was therefore invalid:

Even assuming, as the City contends, that the Helmet Ordinance does not conflict with the Uniform Traffic Act, we find that the ordinance may not stand as the need for uniformity is plainly evident in the regulation of motorcycle helmets and eyewear. Were local authorities allowed to enforce individual helmet ordinances, riders would need to familiarize themselves with the various ordinances in advance of a trip, so as to ensure compliance. Riders opting not to wear helmets or eyewear in other areas of the state would be obliged to carry the equipment with them if they intended to pass through a city with a helmet ordinance. Moreover, local authorities might enact ordinances imposing additional and even conflicting equipment requirements. Such burdens would unduly limit a citizen’s freedom of movement throughout the State. Consequently, the Helmet Ordinance must fail under the doctrine of implied preemption.

After passing the ordinance, the City of Myrtle Beach proudly put up signs proclaiming “Helmet Required.” After the SC Supreme Court’s decision on the case, the City quietly replaced the language on the signs with “Helmet Encouraged…”

Motorcycles helmets are not required for riders 21 and older anywhere in the state of SC – including the City of Myrtle Beach.

Does it Affect My Motorcycle Accident Case if I Wasn’t Wearing a Helmet?

What happens if you are in a motorcycle crash caused by someone else’s carelessness, you weren’t wearing a helmet, and you suffered a head injury?

In Mayes v. Paxton, the SC Supreme Court held that a rider’s failure to wear a motorcycle helmet cannot be considered as comparative negligence and that it is not considered assumption of the risk in SC.

If a negligent motorist causes a motorcycle accident, they are responsible for the full value of any damages that they caused regardless of whether the rider was wearing a helmet unless the rider was under the age of 21.

No Motorcycle Helmet Law – No Comparative Negligence

Under SC’s modified comparative negligence rule, a driver can be up to 50% responsible for an accident and still recover the full value of their claim minus the percentage of fault allocated to them by the jury.

If the plaintiff is more than 50% responsible, however, they are barred from any recovery. The Supreme Court held that this does not apply to a motorcycle crash where a rider over the age of 21 was not wearing a motorcycle helmet:

It is undisputed that Mayes had no statutory duty to wear a helmet at the time of the accident. Although S.C.Code Ann. § 56-5-3660 (1991) requires the use of a helmet by motorcycle operators and passengers under the age of twenty-one, Mayes was excluded from that duty because he was more than twenty-one years old when the accident occurred. In light of the fact that the Legislature has enacted a statute requiring the use of helmets and has specifically elected not to extend that requirement to motorcyclists twenty-one or older, we decline to create a judicial penalty for those exempted from the statutory duty.

No Motorcycle Helmet Law – No Assumption of the Risk

When someone “assumes a risk of harm arising from the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct” by participating in an activity despite knowing the danger, they cannot then sue for damages if they are injured.

The SC Supreme Court also held in Mayes v. Paxton that assumption of the risk does not apply to a motorcycle crash where a rider over the age of 21 was not wearing a motorcycle helmet:

As a matter of law, we find that a motorcyclist’s decision to ride without a helmet does not imply his consent that motorists are relieved of the duty to use reasonable care toward him.

A motorcyclist does not “assume the risk” of being injured or killed by a reckless driver anymore than the driver of a car or a person walking down a sidewalk “assume the risk” of injury from a reckless driver.

If you were not wearing a helmet and a negligent driver caused you to crash, they are responsible for 100% of the damages that they caused, which may include your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, emotional trauma, and even punitive damages in some cases.

Got Axelrod?

The Myrtle Beach motorcycle crash lawyers at Axelrod and Associates help motorcycle crash victims and their families to recover full and fair compensation from careless drivers who injure or kill motorcyclists on SC’s highways.

Call now at 843-353-3449 or fill out our contact form to set up a free initial consultation with an attorney on the Axelrod team.

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