COLUMBIA — State lawmakers are once again attempting to ban the controversial pickup and SUV modification known as the “Carolina Squat” after a similar effort fell apart at the 11th hour of the last regular legislative session.
“The circumstances are pretty much the same, and the bill’s pretty much the same, and the danger is still the same,” said Rep. Mike Burns, R-Taylors, who prefiled a bill to ban the Carolina Squat. “This is a common-sense solution to a problem we’re letting exist right now.”
The Carolina Squat refers to a modification in which a pickup or SUV is lifted on the front axle and lowered or maintained in place in the rear, jacking the front of the truck up in the air.
Critics say the alteration is dangerous because it reduces visibility over the hood and because, in a collision, a squatted vehicle can ride up and on top of a small car in front of it.
The modification, which originated in Southern California in off-roading circles, gained popularity in the Carolinas several years ago. Enthusiasts believe the modification is “sexy.”
People who drive the trucks have previously told The Post and Courier it’s a matter of personal choice. Legislators shouldn’t tell them what they can or can’t do to their own vehicle, they said, contending they can see just fine despite the angle.
“I’m not a fan of more government and more regulation, but I’m also not a fan of a bystander getting run over,” said Rep. Chris Wooten, R-Lexington, who prefiled another Carolina Squat ban with Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York.
The versions of the bills prefiled by Wooten and Pope and Burns are basically the same. Vehicles with their front fenders raised more than 4 inches above the rear fenders would not be allowed on state highways, and the bills would institute penalties ranging from $100 to $300 and a license suspension for violating the law.
The law would also deter autoshops from doing the modification, said Ralph Bell Jr., the legislative coordinator for the motorcycle advocacy group ABATE of South Carolina.
North Carolina passed a similar ban in December 2021, citing safety concerns. It was around the same time South Carolina lawmakers first filed legislation to do the same in the Palmetto State.
The legislation seemed bound for the governor’s desk after a version of the bill easily passed the Senate in February and the House in May.
That March, Virginia also banned the modification.
In the closing days of the South Carolina legislative session in June, House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, and Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, amended their own bills about catalytic converters and utility task vehicles, or UTVs, to the Carolina Squat bill before it was sent back to the Senate, Wooten said. The Senate unanimously rejected the combined bill; they wanted a clean Carolina Squat bill like the one they had passed, he said. The issue was then sent to a conference committee, which failed to reach a consensus, and the bill died as the session ended.
The ban is likely to pass this session because it’s been introduced at the beginning of the session. It already has clear bipartisan support, Wooten said.
Additionally, the bill he prefiled closely matches the final versions of the bills passed earlier this year, incorporating the amendments from last session, he said.
“It should not take any time to finalize this and move on to other things,” Wooten said.
Law enforcement and road safety advocates are hoping Wooten is right.
In Myrtle Beach, where many people drive squatted trucks to auto shows, local authorities were disappointed the ban did not pass last year and are supporting the renewed effort, Myrtle Beach Police Sgt. Thomas Vest said.
The MBPD testified in favor of the bill at a Statehouse hearing in February, and the Myrtle Beach City Council included a Carolina Squat ban in its list of priorities for the upcoming legislative session, as the Myrtle Beach Sun News first reported.
The Police Department previously tested squatted vehicles and found they greatly reduced visibility over the hood, threatening the drivers of small cars, and children, Vest said. A squatted vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in the city in June 2021, he said.
“We’re not looking to stop people from modifying their vehicles, but we want any modifications to be done in a safe way,” he said.
Bell, the motorcycle lobbyist, said the driver of a squatted truck allowed him to climb into the cab to take a look during a recent event.
“I could not see,” Bell said. “It’s like you’re in a super recliner.”