Bike safety lobbyists have been very active in South Carolina, working hard to ensure that cyclists are able to ride safely and have fun. New bike laws came into existence as recently as 2008, geared with the idea of giving stronger protections to cyclists who are considered vulnerable road users. As a result, things may have changed that you may not be aware of! What should you know about the bike laws in South Caroline?
Bikes and Motor Vehicles
One of the big pushes for law changes came from lobbyists who wished to make the interactions between bikes and cars safer. There are some things to keep in mind when riding your bike on streets in order to maintain a safe relationship between cars and bikes.
Bikes are not considered to be vehicles under law; however, while riding on the roads, riders have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicles. This means that cyclists have to do things like signal their intentions (using hand signals) and be aware of their surroundings at all times. South Carolina also stipulates where cyclists are allowed to ride:
- If there is a bike lane provided along the road, cyclists must use it. In return, motor vehicles cannot block the lane and have to yield to cyclists if they need to enter the lane. For themselves, cyclists are only allowed to go on the road if they need to pass another cyclist or to avoid something blocking the lane.
- If there is no bike lane, then cyclists must ride as close to the right side of the road as possible. Cyclists can also ride on the shoulder of the road
- Cyclists on the road cannot ride more than two abreast at a time. If they are on bike paths or lanes that are exclusively for bikes, then this law doesn’t apply. (Section 56-5-3430(D))
- Bikes are neither prohibited from or encouraged to ride on sidewalks. This is left up to local, municipal law rather than a sweeping state law, so it’s important to check the bylaws before you ride
- South Carolina does observe the Idaho Stop. This law allows bike riders to go through a red light if the bike has come to a complete stop and held it for one hundred and twenty seconds and the light is still red and then the rider treats the light as a stop sign and only crosses when safe. This is done because many traffic lights don’t pick up the light weight of a cyclist and can hold up the movement of traffic.
A new inclusion to the relationship between bikes and motor vehicles is section 56-5-3435 which dictates that a motor vehicles must maintain a safe operating distance between themselves and the bike. A minimum distance is not specified, but this ties to the legal responsibility that motorists have not to harass cyclists by throwing things at them, taunting them or otherwise impeding a cyclist’s ability to ride safely which is also a new section of the law.
South Carolina is quiet on riding under the influence as well. Since bikes are not considered vehicles, it can be argued that one could ride while drunk or stoned, event though it wouldn’t be a very safe idea. There are also no laws around distracted riding, such as wearing headphones or riding while texting or talking on your cell phone. It’s not a good idea to do it, but no one is going to stop you.
Other than the things outlined here, there really isn’t much on the books regarding motor vehicles and bikes, so it falls on the cyclist to keep himself or herself safe on the road. There is a big push for more education and safety awareness now in South Carolina due to the deaths of cyclists across the state.
Safety Equipment While Riding
South Carolina does not mandate the use of bicycle helmets while riding, not even for younger riders. We would still strongly recommend wearing one to prevent injury! However, bikes themselves must be equipped with the following in order to be legal:
- A front lamp that emits a white light visible from at least five hundred feet and red reflector on the rear that is visible from all distances at between fifty and three hundred feet while riding at night. A red light lamp can also be used on the rear of the bike, but it cannot replace the reflector.
- A brake that can cause a bike to skid on dry, level, clean pavement
- Only one rider to a bike unless the bike is equipped with enough seats for more riders (such as a tandem bike).
Riders are also not allowed to carry packages while riding that prevents at least one hand on the handlebars and it’s illegal to attach a bike to a moving vehicle and ride it while attached.
That’s about it for safety equipment thought and it falls absolutely to the rider to wear as much (or as little) safety gear as he or she feels comfortable. It’s important to keep yourself safe by being aware, keeping your bike in good working order and wear the gear, regardless of whether you are forced to or not!
Electronic Bikes in South Carolina
Electronic bikes are defined as a bike with pedals and a motor of no more than 500W. They are not meant to go faster than 30mph and in fact, are not really allowed to. Licensing and registration are not required and helmets must be worn if the rider is under the age of eighteen.
Electronic bikes can be ridden on roads and on bike paths, but not on sidewalks.
South Carolina does not have as many laws on the books as other states and many of the laws around safety are disturbingly lax; however, there has been an increased push for education and awareness so that cyclists can stay safe and enjoy their time cycling around South Carolina. It’s important in particular to keep track of local laws as they may have additional requirements and prohibitions. Stay safe and enjoy your ride!