What are Motorcycle Helmet Laws and Related Injury Statistics in South Carolina?
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, 42 percent of riders elect not to wear helmets. This statistic highlights the fact that South Carolina has some of the least restrictive, mandatory helmet laws in the nation – leaving both visitors and residents at risk of serious consequences if involved in an accident. Although wearing protective headgear is recommended, many riders in the state choose not to wear a helmet, despite South Carolina being one of the most dangerous states for drivers of all vehicles.
Are Motorcycle Helmets Required in South Carolina?
South Carolina is a state where personal choice is paramount. While people vary in terms of their beliefs, most South Carolinians believe an individual’s freedom to choose how they live their life is a foundational right. In part, this is why South Carolina’s mandatory helmet law was modified in 1980 to allow any adult over the age of 21 to decide to wear a helmet or not. Under existing laws, minors are required to wear a DOT-approved helmet.
In 2021, South Carolina rider fatalities reached a four-decade high of 149. And, like them or not, evidence suggests that motorcycle helmets do save lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (“CDC”), motorcycle helmets saved 1,872 lives in 2017 and would have saved an estimated 749 additional lives had riders been wearing a helmet. According to another National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, the United States could save an estimated $1.5 billion in economic costs (some of which end up getting passed on to taxpayers) if all motorcyclists wore helmets.
Aside from preventing fatal injuries, there is also evidence that motorcycle helmets protect against brain injuries. In one CDC study, motorcycle helmets reduced the risk of a serious head injury by 69 percent. This included open-head injuries, where the pavement or an object penetrates the skull, and closed-head injuries, where the brain collides with the inside of the skull. Another NHTSA study found that helmeted riders “…have up to an 85 percent reduced incidence of severe, serious, and critical injuries than helmetless riders.”
Of course, this isn’t to say that riders should be forced to wear a helmet if they don’t want to; only that wearing a helmet can help save lives. However, those who choose not to wear a helmet may do so at their own expense. This is because, under South Carolina’s modified comparative negligence rule, accident victims who pursue a personal injury lawsuit against another motorist will have their total damages award reduced by their percentage of fault. A judge or jury may find that a rider’s decision not to wear a helmet contributed to their own injuries.
For example, assume you were injured in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The case goes to trial, and the jury determines that your total damages were $250,000. However, the jury also finds that your failure to wear a helmet contributed to your injuries and assigns you 30 percent fault. In this case, the judge would reduce your damages award by 30 percent, or $75,000, leaving you with a total recovery of $175,000.
While this example involved a case that went to trial, the same logic applies to cases that reach a settlement. Insurance companies factor the South Carolina comparative negligence law into their settlement calculations when calculating a settlement offer.
So, while the decision not to wear a helmet is a personal choice in South Carolina, doing so could save your life and protect your right to recover compensation for all your accident-related expenses.
Were You Injured in a South Carolina Motorcycle Accident Without a Helmet?
If you recently suffered serious head injuries after a motorcycle accident and you were not wearing a helmet, the dedicated Charleston motorcycle accident attorneys at the Steinberg Law Firm are here to help. We have more than 95 years of hands-on experience helping accident victims and grieving families pursue personal injury and wrongful death cases. Over this time, we’ve developed a deep understanding of what it takes to bring a successful case. Our lawyers start working on your case from the moment you bring us on board and make sure we’re available to answer your questions and address your concerns whenever they come up. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with a South Carolina motorcycle accident attorney today, call the Steinberg Law Firm at 843-720-2800. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form.