If you’re planning to haul a utility trailer anywhere on South Carolina’s roads or highways, make sure it complies with all the state’s applicable laws and regulations before you set out. Whether it’s due to a trailer without a required license plate or a violation of one of the state's trailer safety regulations, a traffic stop by the South Carolina Highway Patrol could easily cost you hundreds of dollars in fines, as well as ruin your plans. South Carolina law defines a trailer as every vehicle designed for being drawn by a motor vehicle. It must be constructed so that no part of its weight rests on the towing vehicle. Trailers can be equipped with or without motive power and carry people and property.
Registration of Utility Trailers
Make sure your trailer is registered as required by South Carolina law. Boat trailers weighing under 2,500 pounds, as well as pole trailers, farm trailers and some other utility trailers that are privately owned and not for hire are exempt from licensing and registration fees. The exact amount of the registration fee depends on the weight of the utility trailer when empty. A full list of registration fees for utility trailers can be found at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicle (SC DMV) website. You'll also need to fill out the SC DMV Application for Trailer License Plates. Once you have the fee and your application form filled out, take both to your local DMV along with your valid driver's license, and the clerk will process the application.
South Carolina law requires that specific safety conditions, based on weight, be met when hauling utility trailers on the state’s roads.
Safety requirements for trailers over 3,000 pounds:
- Clearance lamps: one at each side, two on the front and two on the rear (one on each side)
- Side-marker lamps: two on each side, one at or near the front and one at or near the rear
- Reflectors: two on each side, one at or near the front and one at or near the rear
- Stop Lights: one stop light at the rear
Pole trailers that weigh over 3,000 pounds must have one side-marker lamp and one clearance lamp on each side, as well as a reflector on each side of the rear of the trailer or the load. In addition, every pole trailer must also feature a strip of light-reflecting paint, tape or reflectors on the exterior of the pole support frame, bolsters or both, if this placement is practicable.
Securing the Load
One of the most common reasons motorists hauling utility trailers are stopped and issued citations is for an improperly secured load. It’s crucial to make sure you have securely covered any load that might blow off or fall from the trailer, such as gravel, stones and similar material that could endanger other motorists. The cover can be a tarp or any material as long as it keeps the load secured and itself is securely tied down. Even if you’re hauling something larger and more solid, like a lawn mower, bikes or furniture, make sure the item is securely fastened to the trailer so it can’t fall off en route, creating an obstacle for traffic.
Never allow a child under the age of 15 to ride in an open bed or cargo area of your pickup truck or trailer. This is a violation of South Carolina law and also a practical safety risk. Finally, bear in mind that state law authorizes the South Carolina Highway Patrol to stop anyone they deem to be operating a vehicle in an unsafe manner.
- South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles: Fee Schedule
- South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles: Forms
- South Carolina Legislature: SC Code of Laws, Title 56 Chapter 3 (Motor Vehicles)
- South Carolina Legislature: SC Code of Laws, Title 56 Chapter 5 (Uniform Act Regulating Traffic on Highways)
- NATM: Pre-Departure Safety Checklist
- South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles: Application for Trailer License Plate (will prompt for download)
Annie Sisk is a freelance writer who lives in upstate New York. She holds a B.A. in Speech from Catawba College and a J.D. from USC. She has written extensively for publications and websites in the business, management and legal fields.