Featured Expert
Sgt. Bob Beres
Sgt. Bob Beres South Carolina Highway Patrol View bio

This guide was written by

MoneyGeek Staff

The highway system in South Carolina is the fourth largest in the country, with 41,000 of roads stretching across the state. The extensive road system is a cornerstone of the state’s economy, connecting drivers from Charleston and Myrtle Beach to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Learn what the state requires for car insurance and road safety in the Palmetto State.

South Carolina Vehicle Insurance Requirements

Summary

According to the Insurance Information Institute, South Carolina has one of the lowest rates of uninsured motorists in the country. These rules require drivers to carry not only auto liability insurance, but uninsured motorist coverage. In a state where people log more than 48 million miles each year, these insurance regulations help protect drivers and their families.

Who Needs Vehicle Insurance in South Carolina?

The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles requires owners of all vehicles (e.g. cars, trucks, SUVs, motor homes, motorcycles) to carry insurance or pay an annual fee or bond. However, you don’t need to carry insurance on any vehicle you don’t plan to drive.

South Carolina is one of a few states that allow drivers to apply for an Uninsured Motorist Registration. This allows you to register your car without insurance, but you do have to pay an annual fee of $550, and you must meet eligibility requirements. You and other drivers in your household must have been licensed drivers for three or more years, and you must not have had any accidents or driving violations over the past three years.

However, choosing to drive as an uninsured motorist is a risky proposition. You would be 100 percent responsible for any costs in an accident where you were at fault.

Proof of Insurance

To drive legally, you must carry proof of insurance or an alternative (see below) at all times. According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, you need to show this proof:

  • When registering a vehicle
  • When applying for a driver’s license
  • When renewing a driver’s license
  • When renewing a vehicle registration
  • If asked by a police officer
  • If involved in a car accident

In 2014, the state legislature passed a new law that allows drivers to use their smartphone to show proof of insurance during a traffic stop.

Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements in South Carolina

Every driver in South Carolina is required by state law to carry auto liability insurance. The minimum policy is 25/50/25 coverage, as follows:

  • $25,000 for each injured person per accident
  • Up to a total of $50,000 for two or more injured persons per accident
  • $25,000 for property damage per accident

All auto insurance policies in South Carolina must include this minimum uninsured motorist coverage in these amounts:

  • $25,000 for property damage.
  • $25,000 for injury or death per person.
  • $50,000 for injury or death per accident.

The uninsured motorist annual fee is not insurance, so if you get that, you would have to pay for all damages yourself.

In South Carolina, too, an insurance company can reduce the amount of your claim in proportion to your fault in an accident. If it’s determined that you are 50 percent responsible, for example, your claim may be reduced by up to 50 percent.

High-risk auto insurance program

If you have been turned down by auto insurance companies because of your driving record, you can still apply through the Associated Auto Insurers Plan of South Carolina. To be eligible, you have to prove you’ve failed to obtain a liability policy in the state in the previous two months.

Alternatives to insurance in South Carolina

If you don’t have insurance, you can still drive legally if you can present proof of financial responsibility. There are two acceptable alternatives:

  • A surety bond. You may file for a $35,000 surety bond or a real estate bond that has two individual real estate owners with a combined property equity of at least $150,000 You have to file the bond in the county where the properties are located.
  • Certificate of Deposit. You can deposit $35,000 in cash or securities with the State Treasurer’s office. The State Treasurer will issue a certificate you can show the DMV.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Car Insurance in South Carolina?

Drivers face significant penalties for driving without auto insurance in South Carolina. If driving a vehicle you do not own, you face the following penalties:

  • License revocation for 30 days
  • $100 reinstatement fee

If you’re driving your own vehicle without insurance:

  • Your license and registration will be revoked until you pay a $550 reinstatement fee
  • You’ll have to file an SR22 form (evidence of insurance) for three years after your license and registration were suspended

South Carolina also tracks uninsured drivers through an online system that shares a database with insurance companies, so the DMV can find out if you let your policy lapse. If so, the DMV may suspend your license, registration and license plate. You’ll also have to pay up to a $200 reinstatement fee, along with a penalty of $5 for every day your vehicle was uninsured (up to $200).

How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?

What Percentage of Drivers in
South Carolina Lack Vehicle Insurance?
7.7% National Average: 12.6 %

The minimum insurance required by South Carolina may not be enough to cover the costs of an accident in the state. If you can afford it, consumer and insurance experts recommend a liability policy that covers $100,000 for a single person in an accident and $300,000 for the entire accident.

You may also want to consider insurance to cover your car or medical costs. For more on the best type of insurance for you, see our MoneyGeek guide to car insurance.

Car Insurance and Special Groups

Teen Drivers in South Carolina

South Carolina has a graduated driver’s license program designed to protect teenage drivers. With a learner’s permit, teenagers are typically covered under their parents’ insurance. However, notify your insurance agent when your child begins to drive. As teens progress to a full license, they will be required to show proof of insurance to get it. It will probably be much cheaper if you add your child to your policy.

South Carolina Car Insurance: The Difference a Teen Makes

Median annual price change for families with a teen driver on their policy:

$2,347 increase This is a difference of 157%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th - 75th Percentile Median
Watch Your Speedometer

Average annual premium increase if a teen gets a speeding ticket while driving 11 to 15 mph over the speed limit:

Male teen

$405

Speedometer
Female teen

$345

Check Out Discounts for Teens in South Carolina

Impact on annual premium with Good Student and Defensive Driving discounts:

$456 saved

Price Compare: Premiums from South Carolina Insurers

Policy costs vary more than you may think, so shop around. Compare the annual average premiums for a married couple with a 16-year-old teen driver in South Carolina:

Insurance Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
Southern Farm Bureau $1,489 $2,761 $4,955
GEICO $2,005 $3,697 $7,044
State Farm $2,269 $3,932 $6,868
Allstate $2,143 $4,448 $11,085
Progressive $2,568 $4,810 $9,608

Will Your Car Choice Affect Your Premium in South Carolina?

Insurers consider sports cars a riskier choice for teens than sedans and minivans, so think twice before getting one for your child.

Average premium for two 2014
Mustang GTs

$5,302

Average premium for two 2008
Town and Country Limiteds

$3,266

Annual benefit of minivans:

$2,036 saved This is 38% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + 16 Year Old
25th - 75th Percentile Median

College Students in South Carolina

Out-of-state students attending college in South Carolina are not required by the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a South Carolina driver’s license. Students moving out of state must check with the new state’s DMV and their insurance company. If you move out of state, you need to turn in your driver’s license, transfer your auto liability insurance to the new state, and give up your South Carolina license plates.

Even if you just move out of your parents’ home to go to school in state, call your insurance agent; insurers need to know where a car is “garaged.”

College vs. High School Drivers in South Carolina

Median annual premium change with a college student vs. high school driver

$1,064 decrease This is a decrease of 26%.
Comparison of Premium Ranges
25th - 75th Percentile Median

How Annual Premiums Compare for South Carolina Insurers

Each year, take a look at your policy before it renews to see whether you could get a better deal. Here are the average annual premiums, for example, for a married couple with a 19-year-old college student in South Carolina.

Provider Min MEDIAN MAX
GEICO $902 $2,010 $4,717
Southern Farm Bureau $1,206 $2,206 $3,721
State Farm $1,474 $2,542 $4,549
Progressive $1,964 $3,638 $6,812
Allstate $2,022 $4,148 $7,882

Distance Discount: Savings for South Carolina College Students

You may get a small break in your family’s premium if your student lives 150+ miles away from home.

Average premium for a 19-year-old male
  • $3,491 at home
  • $2,931 at school
  • $560 in savings
Average premium for a 19-year-old female
  • $3,040 at home
  • $2,585 at school
  • $455 in savings

How Car Choice Affects Premiums in South Carolina

Your college student will get lower rates if she drives a minivan rather than a sports car.

2014 Mustang GTs (2)

$3,941

2008 Town and Country Limited minivans (2)

$2,421

Annual benefit of minivans

$1,520 saved This is 39% less expensive.
Premium Comparison for Two Adults + College Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Military Drivers in South Carolina

South Carolina has more than 37,600 active-duty military personnel living in the state and more than 417,500 veterans. Even if you’re just stationed temporarily in South Carolina on military duty, you’ll still need auto insurance when driving a personal vehicle in The Palmetto State. Before buying a policy, be aware that most insurance companies offer a military discount to the enlisted and veterans, so compare prices with different companies to save money. Almost all insurance carriers, big and small, offer a military discount.

If you have special concerns, such as storing a vehicle while deployed, ask the company’s insurance rep if you can put a policy on pause and suspend payments while you’re not using your vehicle. The state’s Department of Insurance offers an online guide to auto insurance that may help military families. If you’re a service member stationed in South Carolina, you can register your vehicle or renew a registration online. A list of documents you’ll need is maintained here by the South Carolina DMV.

South Carolina Service Members:
How the Vehicle You Drive Affects Your Premium

Rollover crashes are more likely to occur among SUVs and pickups, according to the Insurance Information Institute, but an older model SUV still has less impact on your premium than a recent model sports car.

Military Drivers: A Comparison of Premium Ranges by Driver Age and Vehicle
25-Year-Old Driver
50-Year-Old Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Age Savings for South Carolina
Service Members

Median auto insurance
for service members:

$1,166
Male (25 yrs)$1,392
Male (50 yrs)$1,053
$339 savings
Female (25 yrs)$1,360
Female (50 yrs)$1,057
$303 savings

Compare Average Premiums Available to South Carolina Military Personnel

When you look for auto insurance, it pays to shop around. Check out the average annual rates you can get in South Carolina.

Premium Comparison for a Military Driver
25th - 75th Percentile Median

Seniors in South Carolina

South Carolina law requires insurance companies to give a discount for drivers at least 55 years old who have passed a driver safety course approved by the Department of Public Safety. Discounts can range from 10 to 15 percent.

Undocumented Workers in South Carolina

South Carolina does not allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license in the state. However, immigrants may be able to apply for a driver’s license under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. DACA permits immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and meet other requirements to remain in the US on a continuous two-year cycle and apply for authorization to work and drive.

If you’re a DREAMer, as DACA recipients are called, you’ll need to bring the following pieces of documentation when applying for a license:

  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of date and place of birth
  • Current authorization to work, live or study in the United States
  • Social Security Card or Social Security Administration letter
  • Proof of South Carolina residency
  • Automobile liability insurance information

Ridesharing Insurance: Are You Covered?

Ridesharing apps such as Uber and Lyft have grown in popularity during the past five years. Ridesharing companies typically provide liability insurance while a driver has their app on and a passenger is in the car. However, legislators in South Carolina have called for stricter insurance regulations to protect both TNC drivers and passengers. In 2015, the state legislature passed a law that requires ridesharing drivers or their companies:

  • To have a primary auto insurance policy that covers drivers as soon as they log into the TNC network or are between passengers
  • To have liability insurance of at least $1 million for death, injury and property damage when carrying a passenger
  • To carry uninsured motorist coverage at all times

Car Accidents: How to File a Claim

In South Carolina, a car accident occurs every 4.6 minutes, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. If you’re involved in an accident, you should take these steps to protect yourself legally and financially.

  • Contact law enforcement
  • Exchange personal information with the other driver(s), including full name, address, phone number, auto insurance company and insurance policy number
  • If the accident involves death, injury or property damage, have the insurance company complete an FR-10 insurance verification form and return it to the DMV
  • For accidents that a law enforcement officer didn’t investigate but resulted in property damage exceeding $1,000 or in injury or death, you have to file a traffic collision report (FR-309) with the DMV within 15 days of the accident
  • Contact your insurance agent as soon as possible
  • Follow the insurance company’s claim filing process in scheduling appointments with insurance adjusters

Driver Safety: How Does South Carolina Rank?

To reduce traffic fatalities in South Carolina, the state’s Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs has launched a series of safe driving programs. “Ultimately, our goal is zero traffic fatalities in South Carolina,” says Sergeant Bob Beres from the Office of Community Relations for the South Carolina Highway Patrol, “We work hard each day to reach that goal.”

These programs have been successful, slashing fatalities by 11.1 percent between 2012 and 2013—from 863 to 767. However, like some other states, South Carolina has seen fatality numbers creep up in 2015. For more on its safety rankings, see the chart below.

South Carolina Driver Safety Ranking

50th in the U.S.
About Our Data

The driver safety table shows the different safety factors that contribute to your state's overall safety rank (in the green box). The overall safety ranking and the National Ranking column scores in each category (including crash fatality rates) are from safest to most dangerous, with 1st being the safest and 51st the least safe.

How did we create the safety rankings?

We created a traffic safety ranking of all US states plus the District of Columbia by combining data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We looked at fatality rates by distance traveled as well as by population and gave more weight to behaviors that were riskier and preventable (i.e., drunk driving, not using a seat belt), as well as to accidents that involved more than one party (i.e., multi-vehicle).

Driver Safety Profile Number of Fatalities Fatality Rate

The fatality rate is the rate per one billion vehicle miles traveled, except for pedestrian and bicyclist fatality measures, which are per measured per a population of 100,000.

Ranking
(National)

Rankings are in order of safest to least safe. A state with the lowest fatality rate would be the safest, and thus ranked #1.

Drunk Driving-Related Fatalities 337 6.89 50th
Speeding-Related Fatalities 306 6.25 49th
Passenger Vehicle Unrestrained Fatalities 242 4.94 39th
Unhelmeted Motorcycle Fatalities 106 2.16 51st
Multiple Vehicle Fatalities 298 6.08 43rd
Pedestrian Fatalities 100 2.09 44th
Bicyclist Fatalities 15 0.31 47th
Total Vehicle Fatalities 767 15.66 48th

Sources: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

South Carolina: Protecting You from Injury on the Road

From banning texting while driving to strict seat belt requirements, state officials have taken steps to make it safer to drive in South Carolina. Nonetheless, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety give the state a yellow “caution” rating for traffic safety laws, urging it to adopt an all-rider motorcycle helmet law, better booster seat protections and mandatory ignition interlocks for DUI convictions.

Safe Driving Laws – South Carolina

  Requirement State Law Details
Mandatory seat belts Every driver and occupant of the vehicle must wear a fastened safety belt. $25 fine for first offense; maximum of $50 for subsequent offenses
Child passenger safety Children <1 or weigh less than 20 pounds must be placed in a rear-facing child safety seat; ages 1-5 who weigh between 20 and 40 pounds must use a forward-facing child seat; ages 1-5 who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds must use a belt-positioning booster seat; <6 who weigh more than 80 pounds do not need to use booster seats; <6 may not sit in the front passenger seat; fine of $150 per offense.
Driving under the influence (DUI) Penalties vary by offense and blood alcohol content levels. Fines range from $400 for a first offense to $10,000 for a third offense. First time offenders have their licenses suspended for a minimum of six months, while a four-time offender will have his or her license permanently revoked. Jail time ranges from a minimum of two days for a first offense to up to seven years for a fourth offense.
Ignition interlock after DUI Partial First-time DUI offenders with a blood alcohol content >0.15 or greater (but not the federal limit of 0.08) must have an interlock installed for a minimum of six months; second offense DUI requires a minimum of two years; third DUI offense requires a minimum of three years; fourth or subsequent DUI offense results in a lifetime revocation of driving privileges
Talking on cell or texting while driving Statewide ban on texting while driving. Talking on a cell phone while driving are not banned under state law
Protections for young drivers Conditional and restricted license drivers 16 or under may drive alone between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.; from 6 p.m. to midnight, they may drive with a passenger who is at least 21 and has a license; between midnight and 6 a.m., they may drive with a licensed parent who accompanies them; they cannot transport more than two passengers under the age of 21 without a licensed passenger who is at least 21 years old
Motorcycle helmet law Partial Riders under the age of 21 must wear a helmet
Bicycle helmet law No statewide law

Source: South Carolina Department of Public Safety; South Carolina Ignition Interlock Device Program; South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

Car Insurance Resources for South Carolina Residents

Associated Auto Insurers Plan of South Carolina

If you’re a high-risk driver having trouble finding insurance, get in touch with this high-risk plan.

Buckle Up South Carolina

An outreach program launched by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety. Learn more about the state’s safety belt laws and child seat requirements.

South Carolina Department of Insurance

A place where drivers can find out more about auto insurance policies and approved companies in the state.

South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

The state agency that runs vehicle licensing and registration processes.

Updated: July 29, 2017