S.C. Court Overrules Myrtle Beach Helmet Law

June 9, 2010
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Myrtle Beach Not Wanted poster II
The South Carolina Supreme Court shot down the city of Myrtle Beach’s helmet law that was enacted as a way to dissuade motorcyclists from holding their yearly rallies there.

The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down the city of Myrtle Beach’s law that requires motorcycle riders coming through town to wear helmets and eyewear. The S.C. Supreme Court ruled City of Myrtle Beach Ordinance 2008-64 is invalid on the grounds that it is superseded by state law.

The petition against the City of Myrtle Beach states “If local authorities are allowed to enforce individual helmet ordinances, riders would need to familiarize themselves with the various ordinances in advance of a trip, so as to ensure compliance.” The justices concurred that this creates undue confusion besides preempting state law.

“Local authorities might enact ordinances imposing additional and even conflicting equipment requirements,” wrote Justice Costa Pleicones. “Such burdens would unduly limit a citizen’s freedom of movement throughout the state.”

The Myrtle Beach City Council enacted the law in 2008 after continuous complaints from residents about noise, lewd behavior and the burden it imposes on local law enforcement and emergency services during motorcycle rallies. The lawsuit against the ordinance was filed in April 2009 by 49 petitioners who were cited for failing to wear the requisite helmet and eyewear. South Carolina state law states that anyone over the age of 21 is not required to wear a helmet.
The concluding statements on the decision states “We find that the City Helmet Ordinance fails under implied field preemption due to the need for statewide uniformity and therefore issue a declaratory judgment invalidating the ordinance.”

An article in the SunNews.com reports that city attorney Tom Ellenburg said “the helmet law’s repeal takes effect immediately, and he will issue an order that the municipal court dismiss all pending helmet tickets, that all records be expunged for those who have received tickets and paid fines, and that all fines paid be returned to the people who paid them.”

In the same article, Myrtle Beach’s Mayor John Rhodes, a major proponent of the helmet law, is quoted as saying that the decision wouldn’t change much and that “We’ve already made it clear we don’t support rallies and won’t support rallies.”

The ruling definitely damaged the reputation of what was once one of the premier motorcycle rallies in the country. Attendance numbers at Myrtle Beach Bike Week have shown double digit declines in the last two years. The businesses of Myrtle Beach have been particularly affected as motorcyclists avoid the city itself, opting for more biker-friendly locales like Murrels Inlet and North Myrtle Beach.

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