SEAT BELTS AND SOUTH CAROLINA LAW
The South Carolina Highway Traffic Patrol investigated a single-car collision that occurred during Labor Day weekend where all three occupants were not wearing seat belts and were ejected from their vehicle. They were traveling north on Highway 21 in Beaufort when their 1998 Mercedes-Benz ran off the right side of the road and turned over. The driver died at the scene while the two passengers, Caesar Middleton and Jonathan Topkins, were taken respectively to the Memorial University Medical Center and the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. The State Patrol is still investigating the accident and it is a tragic reminder of the importance of wearing a seat belt.
South Carolina’s Seat Belt Law
Under Section 56-5-6520 of South Carolina law, all occupants of a motor vehicle must wear a fastened safety belt or seat belt while on a public street or highway. The driver is responsible for making sure that all occupants under the age of seventeen are wearing a seat belt or are secured in a child restraint system or a car seat. However, the driver is not responsible for occupants who are seventeen years old or younger if the occupant has a driver’s license, a special restricted license or a beginner’s permit, and the occupant refuses to wear a seat belt. That occupant is then in violation of the seat belt law and can be fined under Section 56-5-6540.
It is important to note that South Carolina’s seat belt law has a few exceptions. First, this law does not apply to a driver or an occupant who has a doctor’s note verifying that he or she cannot wear a seat belt for physical or medical reasons. Second, this law does not apply to buses operated by schools, churches or daycare center and public transportation except taxis. Third, children who are six years old or younger must be properly restrained in a car seat instead of wearing a seat belt. And fourth, this law does not apply to drivers and occupants of a vehicle that is not originally equipped with safety belts such as buses repurposed for private or non-commercial use.
The seat belt law authorizes law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle if the officer has a clear and unobstructed view of a driver and occupants not wearing a seat belt or a child who is six years or younger who is not in a car seat. Those in violation of the seat belt law are fined $25 and a person cannot be fined more than $50 for any one incident where there is more than one violation, such as the aforementioned car accident where the driver and the two occupants of the Mercedes-Benz were not wearing seatbelts.
For those with vehicles not originally equipped with seat belts and are unsure how the law applies to them or have questions about the seat belt law, it is best to consult a knowledgeable traffic attorney. Although the fine for violating the seat belt law is not a substantial amount, it is still in drivers’ and occupants’ best interest to obey the law and wear a seat belt. After all, the life they may be saving may be their own.