Answer: there are no laws specifically targeting shirtless driving in South Carolina.
However, the state does have laws prohibiting indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, and lewd conduct.
Thus, being shirtless in the car (depending upon who you are, what you are doing, and who can see you) could still result in a traffic stop and criminal charges.
Is It Illegal To Drive Shirtless In South Carolina? (Discussion)
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The state of South Carolina has no specific laws preventing shirtless driving.
South Carolina laws does have laws about public nudity/indecent exposure, but they are unfortunately vague, prohibiting individuals from exposing their “person” to others.
What part of the “person” the statute refers to is not defined, but later in the same article, South Carolina laws do incorporate uncovered breasts in the definition of explicit nudity.
Thus, we conclude that a woman driving topless could probably be cited for a public nudity offense so long as she wasn’t breastfeeding.
But the key elements of the offense would be the topless-ness in public, and not the driving.
Legal Consequences for Driving Shirtless
A citation for shirtless driving (if the shirtless-ness violated South Carolina laws against lewd or disorderly conduct) will not automatically occur.
A citation requires an observation or a report.
If no one sees it, or cannot see it due to tinted windows or night driving, it is unlikely that any consequences or repercussions will occur.
Depending upon the circumstances of the potentially lewd or disorderly conduct, the incident could be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
The consequences could be greater if the intent of the shirtless driving was to cause a disturbance, especially if the disturbance caused a motor vehicle accident, bodily injury, or death.
Is It Possible To Go To Jail For Shirtless Driving in South Carolina?
Though jail is an option per the statute for public nudity, as well as lewd or disorderly conduct, whether an individual would get sentenced to jail is much more complicated.
Offenders do not go to jail automatically for breaking the law every single time.
Instead, during sentencing process, many factors are considered, such as:
- how serious the crime was (felony or misdemeanor, as established by statute)
- how badly anyone was hurt
- how much property was damaged
- whether self-defense was involved
- what or who was threatened
- whether a weapon was involved
- whether the offender is prepared to pay for damages
- whether this is a first offense
- the most recent previous criminal conviction, and how many previous convictions there are
- whether the offender is remorseful
- whether jail will cause the offender to lose his job or place in school
- whether the offender is prepared to enter substance abuse treatment
- the mental and physical health of the defendant
The judge will make the decision as to whether jail is appropriate in the circumstances, or whether the offender would be better suited to performing community service or other service under the eye of the jail, such as trash clean up/road crew.
The parties (prosecutor and defense) may even negotiate a sentence that seems appropriate and jointly recommend it to the court for consideration.
In certain circumstances (in a few states), the laws establishing the offense do not allow the court to sentence an offender to probation, making jail a mandatory punishment.
If the offender had no previous criminal history, did not hurt anyone, did not exhibit extreme behavior, expresses remorse, and has support in the community, the defendant is less likely to receive a lengthy jail sentence.
If the offender has significant criminal history, exhibited extreme behavior (especially if vulnerable individuals were involved), and does not show any remorse or acceptance of responsibility, the defendant is more likely to receive a jail sentence.
In the end, a jail sentence really just depends on the jurisdiction, the judge, the facts of the case, and the circumstances of the defendant.
There’s no way to say for sure with any certainty what will or would happen without details.
Why Wearing a Shirt Might Make Sense While Driving
While it might be more comfortable to drive without a shirt, it might be prudent to wear one anyway.
In the event of an accident, a shirt could protect or lessen the damage to vulnerable skin and body parts from glass cuts, abrasions, or scrapes.
The shirt fabric would also give emergency responders something to grab or hold onto, in the event that the driver needed to be pulled from the vehicle.
If you have been charged with a driving crime, or you are worried that you will be, conferring with an attorney early on is recommended.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need a lawyer or be able to afford a retained lawyer in your case, early consultation with an experienced South Carolina criminal defense lawyer could prevent you from making your case worse and give you guidance about what to do next.
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