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
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 as well. 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 may not need to carry insurance on vehicles 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 may 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
The state also allows drivers to use their smartphones 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 also include this minimum uninsured motorist coverage:
- $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.
Unlike in some other states, insurance companies in South Carolina 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 surety bond or a real estate bond that has two individual real estate owners with a combined property equity of at least $150,000.
- 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:
- Suspension of license and registration
- Fixed and daily fines (per each day without coverage)
- Possible prison time
- $200 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.
How Much Vehicle Insurance Do You Need?
South Carolina Lack Vehicle Insurance? 9.4% National Average: 13 % (Source: Insurance Research Council - latest data, 2015)
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.
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%.
Average annual premium increase if a teen gets a speeding ticket while driving 11 to 15 mph over the speed limit:
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:
|Southern Farm Bureau||$1,489||$2,761||$4,955|
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
Average premium for two 2008
Town and Country Limiteds
Annual benefit of minivans:
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%.
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.
|Southern Farm Bureau||$1,206||$2,206||$3,721|
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
Military Drivers in South Carolina
South Carolina has around 37,000 active-duty military personnel living in the state and more than 400,000 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. More information on the documents you'll need is provided 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
Age Savings for South Carolina
Median auto insurance
for service members:
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.
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
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, South Carolina does not currently allow driving privileges to unauthorized immigrants.
- 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 tremendously over the past decade. Ridesharing companies typically provide liability insurance while a driver has their app on and a passenger is in the car, and South Carolina was one of the first states to call for stricter insurance regulations to protect both TNC drivers and passengers. Back 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 (limits of 50/100/50 for injury per person/per incident/property damage)
- 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
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
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.
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|
|Passenger Vehicle Unrestrained Fatalities||242||4.94||39th|
|Unhelmeted Motorcycle Fatalities||106||2.16||51st|
|Multiple Vehicle Fatalities||298||6.08||43rd|
|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 and mandatory ignition interlocks for DUI convictions.
Safe Driving Laws - South Carolina
|Mandatory seat belts||Every driver and occupant of the vehicle must wear a fastened safety belt. $25 fine for first offense|
|Child passenger safety||Children Children under 2 must be in a rear-facing infant seat; children from ages 2 to 8 must be in a front-facing child seat or booster seat|
|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 may 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. Community service is often required as well|
|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; subsequent offenses require longer periods|
|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 nighttime driving restrictions and a limit of two under-21 passengers (unless driving to school) apply to drivers until they turn 16 and a half|
|Motorcycle helmet law||Partial||Riders under the age of 21 must wear a helmet|
|Bicycle helmet law||No statewide law|
Car Insurance Resources for South Carolina Residents
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.
A place where drivers can find out more about auto insurance policies and approved companies in the state.
The state agency that runs vehicle licensing and registration processes.