This story was updated on Sept. 7, 2018. It originally was published Aug. 12, 2016.
Hilton Head is often praised as a bicyclist’s paradise, with more than 60 miles of shared pathways stretching across the scenic landscape, not to mention 12 miles of shoreline where you can cruise smoothly across the beach.
But if you don’t know the rules of the road, it can be a bit of a danger zone — whether you’re walking, cycling or driving. Hilton Head has seen dozens of fatal bicycle and pedestrian accidents since 2000.
As recently as Sept. 1, a man riding a bike was struck and killed by a driver on New Orleans Road, according to the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
An estimated 50 percent of Hilton Head’s tourists rent bikes, making roads and sidewalks even more populated.
So be careful out there.
Here are five laws you need to know if you’re driving or biking around Hilton Head.
1. Right-of-way laws are tricky at crosswalks.
South Carolina law indicates that motorists must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists within marked crosswalks, but it’s not always the case, depending on who arrives at the intersection first.
“It generally means that motorists have the right-of-way at crossings over folks waiting to cross, but must yield to bicyclists/ pedestrians that they encounter who may have already entered (the crosswalk),” Darrin Shoemaker, Hilton Head Island traffic engineer,Shoemaker said.
TIP: As a general rule, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists are encouraged to stop and look both ways before proceeding through an intersection. If you’re on a bike or walking, try to make eye contact with the approaching motorist to ensure you are seen before entering the intersection.
2. Bicyclists must follow all stop/yield signs on pathways. It’s the law.
Those little stop signs next to the bike paths are not for decoration. They carry just as much weight in the eyes of the law as full-sized signs at intersections.
They’re placed where they are for a reason, too. The most common bike-vs.-car accident on the island is a right-turning motorist striking a cyclist in a crosswalk.
“Our pathway signs are official traffic control devices as defined in the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and state law requires bicyclists and pedestrians to comply with all official traffic control devices and applicable laws concerning right-of-way,” Shoemaker said.
3. Pedestrians stay left, cyclists stay right.
It’s a common misconception that it’s safer to ride your bike against traffic so you can see approaching motorists. But don’t be fooled: riding against traffic makes it hard for motorists to see you and makes it impossible to see road signs.
Cyclists who want to use the road have the right to do so, but they must ride with the flow of traffic, according to South Carolina law.
“Bicyclists can be traveling speeds over 25 mph, and a head-on collision is much more dangerous for a bicyclist than a collision from the rear,” Shoemaker said. “It’s much safer for cyclists to ride with the flow of traffic.”
Pedestrians, on the other hand, are safer on the left side of the pathways and roadways, where they can easily see approaching traffic, Shoemaker said.
4. Light up your bike.
Here on Hilton Head, it gets dangerously dark when night falls. Many streets don’t have lights and the sidewalks are not lighted in most places.
If you do decide to ride at night, South Carolina law says you must have a front light and a red reflector.
Some drivers have enough trouble seeing bikes during the day, so don’t assume they see you at night. That goes for pedestrians, too.
So if you’re biking,walking, or running anywhere on Hilton Head at night, do whatever you can to be visible.
5. Be courteous and communicate while sharing the roads.
South Carolina law requires cyclists on the road to use hand signals when turning or stopping. On pathways, bicyclists should communicate with approaching pedestrians and be aware of their surroundings. On that note, if you do wear headphones, make sure you can still hear what’s outside your earbuds.
It’s against the law for motorists to harass or throw things at cyclists, and it’s also dangerous, rude, and could cost you a $250 fine or 30 days in jail.