South Carolina uses a graduated license system to promote young drivers to a valid license. The state has multiple youth licenses available depending on the needs and experience of the applicant.
All minor drivers must begin with a beginner’s permit. A teen who’s at least 15 years old can submit an application, take a vision test, and take a written test covering South Carolina traffic signs and traffic laws to obtain the permit. The application must be signed by a parent or guardian at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and include a birth certificate, a social security card, and proof of residency. The parent or guardian who signs the application will be liable for any negligence or misconduct of the teen. The signing parent can later withdraw this consent and notify the DMV to cancel the teen’s permit.
A beginner’s permit is valid for one year and permits the holder to operate a vehicle under the supervision of a licensed driver who’s age 21 or older and has at least one year of driving experience. If the youth is driving from midnight to 6 a.m., the supervisor must be a parent or guardian.
An exception to the permit requirement exists for 15-year-old teens who are driving under instruction in a driver’s education course.
Teens who are 15 to 16 years old and have held an instructional permit for at least 180 days are eligible to apply for a conditional license. A conditional license requires the teen to:
A conditional license permits the holder to drive unsupervised from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. (until 8 p.m. during daylight savings time). The teen must be supervised from dusk to midnight by an adult age 21 or older who has at least one year of driving experience. After midnight, the teen must be supervised by a parent or guardian.
The conditional license holder can carry only two passengers who are younger than 21 years old at a time. This requirement is waived for family members, transporting students to school, or if the teen is supervised by a licensed driver who’s at least 21 years old and has a minimum one year of driving experience.
A special restricted driver’s license is available to 16-year-olds who have held a beginner’s permit for at least 180 days. The requirements and restrictions are exactly the same as those for a conditional license, except for a modification for after-dark activities. With proper documentation, special restricted license holders can drive from 6 p.m. to midnight for work, school, or other activities. The documentation must include parental consent for the activity and certification from the principal, employer, or activity leader that the need for transportation exists.
Violation of any minor license restriction is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine or up to 30 days in jail. Additionally, the teen’s parent can be fined up to $500 for permitting a violation. Any conditional or special restricted license holder who accumulates six traffic violation points faces a six-month license suspension.
After holding a conditional or special restricted license for at least 12 months without any traffic violations or at-fault accidents, a teen can apply for a non-restricted license. Even without holding a restricted license for 12 months, a teen who’s at least 17 years old can apply for a non-restricted license.
Before any driver can lawfully operate a vehicle in South Carolina, the vehicle must be properly insured. In South Carolina, the mandatory insurance requirements are at least $25,000 bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 property damage per accident.
Civil penalties. If, at any time, the Department of Revenue receives notification that a vehicle has a lapse in coverage, it will inform the owner and, if the owner doesn’t show proof of insurance within five days, suspend the owner’s registration and driver’s license. The owner can’t reinstate the registration and license until he or she shows proof of insurance and pays a reinstatement fee and $5 for each day the insurance lapsed.
Criminal. Drivers who are caught driving without insurance can be convicted of a misdemeanor. A first offense carries a $100 to $200 fine or 30 days in jail. A second offense results in a $200 and/or 30 days in jail and a third offense carries 45 days to six months in jail. For purposes of determining whether a violation is a second or subsequent offense, all prior offenses within the last five years are counted.