South Carolina Car Insurance Requirements

Here's what South Carolina drivers need to know about the state's car insurance rules, including minimum coverage requirements and penalties for driving without insurance in South Carolina.

In every state, car insurance is sure to play a big part in any claim brought after a traffic accident, and South Carolina is no exception. In this article, we'll cover the basics of South Carolina's auto insurance rules, explain how coverage is likely to affect a car accident case, and lay out the penalties for driving without insurance in South Carolina.

South Carolina is a "Fault" Car Accident State

South Carolina follows a traditional "fault" system when it comes to financial responsibility for losses stemming from a car accident: injuries, lost income, vehicle damage, and so on. This means that the person who was at fault for causing the car accident is also responsible for any resulting harm (from a practical standpoint, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier will absorb these losses, up to policy limits).

In South Carolina, a person who suffers any kind of injury or damage due to an auto accident usually can proceed in one of three ways:

  • by filing a claim with his or her own insurance company, assuming that the loss is covered under the policy (in this situation, the injured person's insurance company will likely turn around and pursue a subrogation claim against the at-fault driver’s carrier)
  • by filing a third-party claim directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, or
  • by filing a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the at-fault driver.

Note: In no-fault car insurance states, a claimant doesn't usually have this same range of options. After a car accident in a no-fault state, you must turn to the personal injury protection coverage of your own car insurance policy for payment of medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injuries reach a certain threshold can you step outside of no-fault and make a claim directly against the at-fault driver. But South Carolina drivers don't need to worry about no-fault after an in-state accident.

Car Insurance Requirements in South Carolina

In South Carolina, when you apply for or renew a driver’s license, you must certify you are insured by an automobile liability policy, or certify that you do not own a vehicle.

South Carolina requires vehicle owners to carry liability auto insurance that meets at least the following minimums:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle
  • $50,000 for total bodily injury or death liability in an accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle, and
  • $25,000 for property damage per accident caused by the owner/driver of the insured vehicle.

So, what is liability coverage? It pays the medical bills, property damage bills, and other costs of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who are injured or have their vehicle damaged in a car accident you cause, up to coverage limits. You can (and in some situations should) carry more coverage to protect you in case a serious crash results in significant car accident injuries and vehicle damage. Once policy limits are exhausted, you are personally on the financial hook, so higher insurance limits can help protect your personal assets in the event of a serious crash.

Your liability coverage will kick in if any family member is driving your vehicle, or if you've given someone else permission to use it. It will likely also cover you if you get into an accident in a rental car.

Remember that liability coverage doesn't apply to your own injuries or vehicle damage after a South Carolina car accident. You'll need different (additional) coverage for that if you're involved in a car accident and no one else's coverage applies to your losses.

For example, collision coverage (optional in South Carolina, though might be required under the terms of a vehicle lease or financing agreement) can pay for repairs to (or replacement of) your damaged vehicle after a car accident.

Uninsured Motorist Coverage Required in South Carolina

In addition to liability insurance, uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is required in South Carolina, in an amount equal to the minimum required liability coverage laid out above (25/50/25). UM coverage can protect you and your passengers if the at-fault driver has no insurance, or if you're the victim of a hit and run.

Penalties for Driving Without Insurance in South Carolina

According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, when you cancel the car insurance policy on a vehicle you're still driving, you'll probably receive a letter requiring your insurance company to electronically verify that you've got new coverage, and then let the SCDMV know. If the SCDMV does not receive this verification within 20 days:

  • your driving privileges and vehicle plates and registration will be suspended, and
  • you may be ordered to pay up to $400 to reinstate your driving privileges and registration.

If you're pulled over and cited for driving without insurance, and it's a vehicle you don't own, your license will probably be suspended for 30 days, and you'll likely need to pay a $100 reinstatement fee.

If you're pulled over and cited for driving without insurance, and you're the vehicle owner, your license and registration will almost certainly be suspended until the SCDMV receives a $550 "uninsured motorist fee," and you'll probably need to make sure your car insurance company verifies your insured status with SCDMV for the next three years.

Keep in mind that fines and other administrative penalties will likely pale in comparison to the financial hit you could take if you're in a car accident and you don't have car insurance.

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