Riding a motorcycle comes with risks that driving a car, crossover, truck, or SUV does not. Motorcyclists aren’t always easy for other drivers to see. More importantly, they lack the protection that automotive frames provide.
When motorcycles are struck, there’s virtually nothing between their riders and the road. During auto accidents that involve motorcycles, people in vehicles may sustain little more than minor abrasions and bruises, but motorcyclists often wind up with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and other forms of life-altering damage.
To increase the undeniably scant protection that motorcyclists enjoy, motorcycle helmet laws are put in place. However, in South Carolina, these laws aren’t universal.
If you’re over the age of 21, you have the option of riding a motorcycle in South Carolina without the benefit of this protection. You won’t get pulled over or ticketed for riding without a helmet, and you’re essentially free to assume any personal risks that you deem necessary for riding in comfort. But what does this mean for personal injury claims in South Carolina?
At David Aylor Law Offices, we want adult motorcyclists to understand how South Carolina helmet laws impact their claims, their lives, and their livelihoods. When you ride your bike without a helmet, you’re taking on far more than major health risks. You’re also diminishing your chances of getting a suitable settlement for covering any losses or damages that you sustain during a collision.
Motorcycle Helmet Laws in South Carolina for All Operators and Passengers Under the Age of 21
In other states, universal motorcycle helmet laws mean that everyone, riders and passengers alike, must wear a helmet at all times while riding. This remains true regardless of:
- Length of distance traveled
With universal laws, even hopping on the back of someone’s bike to travel a short distance requires a proper helmet. Universal laws also specify the type and quality of helmet that must be worn. In South Carolina, motorcycle helmet laws are only applicable to riders under the age of 21. Once motorcycle operators and passengers are 21 or older, whether or not to wear a helmet is a matter of personal choice. Below the age of 21, riders and passengers must wear helmets that are:
- Properly fitting
- Reflectorized on each side
- Fitted with a chin or neck strap
Moreover, when people under the age of 21 operate or ride on any motorcycle that lacks a windscreen which meets or exceeds the standards of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), they must additionally wear face shields or goggles for eye protection.
What are the Minimum Specifications for Motorcycle Helmets for Those Under the Age of 21?
The requirements for helmets are set forth in South Carolina’s state statutes Section 56-5-3670. However, when it comes to the minimum standard for helmets for those who require them, the state’s laws are vague. This is also true in other states throughout the nation that lack universal helmet laws.
As a general rule, motorcycle riders in South Carolina who are subject to this law are advised to adhere to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 218 for helmet quality. Fortunately, given that this is a federal standard, all motorcycle helmets that are produced and sold domestically meet it.
Why Wearing a Helmet Is Still a Good Idea Even if You’re Over the Age of 21
The human skull does not suddenly become harder or more resilient at the age of 21. South Carolina’s refusal to mandate helmet use for riders at or above this age is not reflective of any lesser tendency to sustain TBI or other serious harm.
Instead, the law assumes that riders 21 and older do not need to have this very sensible decision enforced. Traumatic brain injury of any magnitude rarely has positive outcomes. More importantly, once sustained, TBI often has a permanent impact on cognitive functioning, memory, balance, coordination, and more.
How Not Wearing a Helmet Can Harm Your Settlement Outcome
There are also legal implications to consider when failing to don a helmet. Although helmet use isn’t mandated for older riders, it is still legally considered an important part of protecting yourself. Even if you’re hit by a negligent driver who was speeding, overtaking, driving while intoxicated, or asleep behind the wheel, the decision to expose yourself to the possibility of TBI is ultimately your own.
Personal injury cases involving motorcycle riders who weren’t wearing helmets and who now have TBI can represent potential settlements that range into the millions. Claims adjusters and their legal teams fight hard to minimize these payouts. Citing the failure to wear a helmet is one of the very first and most effective tactics that they’ll use.
Riding without a helmet is considered negligence on the part of injury victims. In a comparative fault/comparative negligence state like South Carolina, any assumption of negligence can negatively impact settlement outcomes. In certain instances, it may make an injury victim unqualified for a settlement at all.
TBI Isn’t the Only Injury That Helmet-Free Riders Can Sustain
Motorcycle helmets don’t just protect the brain. They also protect the eyes, the entire facial structure, the ears, the mouth and teeth, and the nose. Not wearing a helmet and being involved in a major motorcycle accident can result in full or partial blindness, the loss of one or both eyes, tooth loss, crushed facial bones, and more. These accidents can be debilitating, disfiguring, and absolutely life-changing.
Consider the Possible Long-Term Costs of Riding Without a Helmet
No matter what the age of a motorcycle operator or passenger may be, the consequences of not wearing a helmet can be grave and lifelong. People with severe TBI may never be able to return to work again. They may need lifelong:
- Medical treatment
- Mental health support for dealing with the emotional trauma of their injuries and losses
- Professional assistance with their basic self-care
Not only does failing to wear a helmet put a person at risk of facing these damages, but it also greatly minimizes their likelihood of getting compensation that covers the related costs.
Common Reasons Why Cyclists Over the Age of 21 Don’t Wear Helmets
There’s never a good reason to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, even if you’re over the age of 21. However, there are a number of common excuses that people use to justify this decision. These include:
- Feeling physically uncomfortable when wearing a helmet
- Feeling claustrophobic or “trapped” while a helmet is on
- Not being able to see the road clearly
- Only taking a quick, short trip
Motorcycle accidents can happen in seconds. You don’t have to travel far without a helmet to sustain a permanent brain injury that forever alters your quality of life. This is just as true for motorcycle passengers as it is for motorcycle operators. It is additionally important to note that none of these or other common “reasons” for not wearing a helmet stand up in court.
Contact David Aylor for Your Motorcycle Accident Consultation
At David Aylor Law Offices, we fight hard for our clients. The importance of wearing a helmet shouldn’t be considered solely in hindsight. However, if you’ve been seriously injured by a negligent driver, we believe that helmet or no, you have the right to get the compensation you need and deserve. Call us today to get started.
Motorcycle Helmet Law FAQs
Does failing to wear a helmet prevent accident victims from collecting settlements?
Failing to wear a helmet isn’t guaranteed to prevent you from collecting compensation. However, it will increase the likelihood of serious injuries, and it gives the opposing team fodder for arguing against the highest possible settlement amount.
How does South Carolina’s comparative negligence law affect helmet-free motorcycle riders?
In a comparative negligence state like South Carolina, motorcyclists can only collect damages in personal injury claims when their portion of fault or negligence is determined to be less than 51 percent. Insurance companies may factor in a lack of helmet use as negligence to reach or exceed this percentage, and to deny an accident victim access to any compensation at all.
Are there other ways in which not wearing a helmet can impact my case?
By nearly all standards, not wearing a helmet while operating or riding on a motorcycle is considered risky and negligent behavior. Your decision to do so may be considered a characteristic of generally high-risk behavior, self-endangerment, and personal negligence, which could matter if your case has a high settlement potential, goes to court, or involves the use of character witnesses or character studies.