Crime & Courts

8 S.C. driving laws – or lack thereof – you may not know about

Did you know that “obscene or indecent” bumper stickers on your car are illegal in South Carolina?

Or, that driving with headphones on is not?

Like every state, South Carolina has its obvious traffic laws. But, the Palmetto State has several traffic rules that are not as well known. Here are eight.

Slower traffic to the right

Of all the state’s lesser-known traffic laws, the one drivers complain about most prohibits motorists from getting in the left lane on interstates and staying there, according to Lance Cpl. David Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol.

“It’s something I hear probably on a weekly basis,” Jones said.

The law states cars should stay in the right lane of travel unless the driver is passing another vehicle traveling in the same direction or preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway. Violators face a $155 fine and two points against your license.

Motorists getting into the left lane and staying there can cause traffic to back up, which Jones said leads to road rage and crashes.

“Ideally, the left lane should be clear, and it should be for passing only,” he said. “If the fast lane driver’s running 60 (mph) and the slow lane driver’s running 60, you have a parade of drivers behind them.”

Obscene bumper stickers

Displaying bumper stickers or decals with “obscene or indecent” words or pictures on your car is a misdemeanor that carries up to a $200 fine, under state law.

“Obscene” is loosely defined under the state code titled “Offenses Against Morality and Decency,” in an article dictating material that is harmful to children. It includes anything that depicts sexual conduct or human genitalia.

A bumper sticker depicting a character from the Calvin and Hobbes comic with his pants down and urinating on the logo of a specific car brand or sports team comes to mind for Sgt. Bob Uhall of the Columbia Police Department’s traffic enforcement unit. Also, the silhouette of a naked woman often seen on the mudflaps of tractor-trailers can be considered obscene.

“It’s really in the eye of the beholder,” Uhall said of what is considered obscene. He and Jones said citing drivers under this law is rare, and neither of them have made a traffic stop because of an obscene sticker or decal.

Stopping for funeral processions

Though respectful and decent, stopping or pulling over on the side of the road for a funeral procession is not required by law.

“It’s all courtesy,” said Jones.

Officers from local law enforcement agencies typically are hired to escort funeral processions from a service to a burial ground, Jones said. Those officers and patrol cars guide the procession through intersections and traffic signals.

Using earbuds or headphones

Just as there’s no law requiring drivers to pull over for processions, there also is nothing that prohibits people from driving while wearing earbuds or headphones.

Law enforcement officers discourage it, though. Earbuds or headphones, like loud music on the radio, can prevent drivers from hearing emergency sirens or a train that is approaching a railroad crossing.

“In addition to observing your surroundings, you need to be able to hear them to know what’s going on,” Uhall said.

Some states have an outright ban on earbuds or headphones while driving. Other states, such as Georgia, allow you to drive with one earbud in an ear.

Move over for emergency vehicles

A 2002 law requires drivers to move over to the far lane when passing emergency vehicles stopped on the roadside with lights flashing.

If moving over isn’t possible, drivers are required to slow down. The misdemeanor charge carries a fine between $300 and $500.

“It’s our lives,” Uhall said of first responders. “We’re just trying to do our job, whether it’s a fire truck, an ambulance, a police officer stopping somebody on the side of the road or assisting a driver. You need to slow down, just like a work zone.”

Similarly, if an emergency vehicle is traveling down the road with lights and sirens activated, drivers are required by law to move as close as possible to the curb on the right side of the roadway, stop and allow the emergency vehicle to pass.

Motorcycles can run red lights ... sort of

Motorcyclists, bicyclists and moped drivers are allowed to go through an intersection – if the traffic signal has stayed red for at least 120 seconds.

“The reason is because they are lighter than some of the vehicles that activate the lights,” Uhall said. “They may proceed after two minutes, but they still have to do it with due regard to the safety of others.”

Uhall cautioned that if a motorcyclist, bicyclist or moped driver proceeds through a red light and causes a crash, they still would be found at fault. A violation carries a $100 fine and four points against your license.

Headlights on in the rain

Obviously, headlights should be turned on when it’s dark outside. Not so obviously, state law also requires that a car’s headlights be on whenever the windshield wipers are on.

Specifically, the law says headlights must be illuminated “when windshield wipers are in use as a result of rain, sleet, or snow, or when inclement weather or environmental factors severely reduce the ability to clearly discern persons and vehicles on the street or highway at a distance of (500) feet ahead.”

Technology in some newer cars automatically turns on the headlights when the windshield wipers are activated, which Jones said has cut down on the number of drivers who violate this law.

The same law also requires that headlights be turned on “from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise.” A violation carries a fine up to $25.

Pets in your lap

It’s not uncommon to see people driving with their dog in the car, even some with a small dog in their lap.

In a survey by auto club AAA and Kurgo Pet Products, 65 percent of respondents admitted to participating in at least one distracting behavior while driving with their dog, including petting their dog, allowing their dog to sit in their lap, giving treats to or playing with their dog.

South Carolina law does not prohibit driving with your fur baby in your lap, but law enforcement officers advise against it.

“It’s a major distraction,” said Jones, who has worked crashes in which dogs were a distraction. “The first thing (the driver) will say is that the dog was in the back seat and jumped into their lap.”