While cruising the highway to your favorite beach, or biking to our famous landmarks, or strolling in the sunshine this summer, keep in mind that safety matters on vacation too. We’ve put together tips from local law enforcement officials and Outer Banks residents to give you a better understanding of the seasonal traffic-related concerns on the Outer Banks.
Arguably the worst place to be on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer is the US 158/NC 12 intersection in Kitty Hawk where drivers turn toward Duck and Corolla. Not only is the traffic verging on dead stop, but drivers making a northbound turn onto NC 12 tend to get stuck in the middle of the intersection. Detective Sergeant Chris Montgomery of the Nags Head police says, “Once you get gridlocked, no one can go anywhere.”
The police force has tried different strategies for keeping the intersection clear, including posting large signs and sitting at the intersection with lights flashing. Although these tactics may have alleviated the situation to some extent, a more permanent solution such as added travel lanes or an alternate bridge is still needed. To avoid peak Saturday congestion, keep in mind that roughly 85% of cottage rentals change occupants on that day. Or consider coming down a day before your weekend check-in if that option is available.
When setting out on a daytrip or even a drive to the local lunch spot, know where you are going before you start the car. Other drivers – and your kids in the backseat – will appreciate you not slamming on the brakes as you spot your destination. Note that there is a difference between N. Croatan Highway and S. Croatan Highway, N. Virginia Dare Trail and S. Virginia Dare Trail. And always give the car in front of you plenty of breathing room. US 158 in particular can be home to chain reaction, multiple car accidents because vehicles are so close together. Detective Sergeant Montgomery said, “The majority of calls are rear ends just because of the congestion. The two things you can do is give more space than you think you need to the car in front of you, and just slow down.”
Something for visitors to be aware of on the entire length of US 158 is the center turning lane. Despite it being illegal to use the space as an acceleration lane, locals and vacationers alike can often be seen getting up to speed before merging out leaving the turn lane. Keep an eye on this center lane as you are driving, and be especially cautious entering and exiting the lane while making turns. It is always best to seek out a traffic light when turning in a busy area. Detective Sergeant Montgomery said, “Our best advice is if you have to make a left and it’s heavy traffic in the summertime, you’re better off making a right and making an exaggerated U-turn.”
Finally while driving, be sure to yield to pedestrians. Over the last few years, athletic events like 5Ks and marathons have become a regular addition to weekly event schedules. Often roads are closed for these runners and walkers, but sometimes they take to the side of an open street too. Police vehicles will usually be present to help athletes through intersections along the way, but drivers should remain alert when turning in particular.
In addition, pedestrians have the right of way when crossing the road at a crosswalk. Beachgoers are often staggered as they lug beach gear to and from the access, so keep an eye out for pedestrians that are a few paces behind the group. Captain Mark Evans of the Kill Devil Hills police says getting pedestrians across NC 12 is the town’s biggest issue in traffic safety.
For the cyclists in the family, the towns of the Outer Banks have come together to connect multi-use paths all over the beach, but there are still some areas where they don’t exist. If you are biking on the road, you must follow traffic laws that are similar to driving a car. This includes stopping at stop signs and traffic lights.
Make sure your bicycle is equipped with a reflector and a headlamp if you are cycling at night. It is not mandated by the state, but it is always valuable to have a light on the back as well as the front of the bicycle such as an LED or strobe light.
Also, watch out for other cyclists no matter which way you are getting around. In the summer the Outer Banks plays host to many international students that have come to work for the season, and the majority of them use bicycles to get around. Detective Sergeant Montgomery said, “Expect the unexpected. Keep tabs on people on bicycles. We have a lot of exchange students that are getting educated on what our rules are. Give them a wide berth and keep an eye out for them.”
Those who prefer to travel by foot should take heed crossing the highways as described above. Know that although you have the right-of-way at crosswalks, drivers may not always see you emerging from the dune line so use caution when stepping out into the street. Keep in mind drivers may see a few folks crossing in the walk, but not be aware of the stragglers dashing into the road to catch up with the group. At night, it is important not to wear all black because many areas are not well lit.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to being aware of your surroundings and opting not to rush. Captain Evans said, “It’s having patience – a lot of patience. If you make an extra effort to look twice, it could change your life. Take a deep breath and get to your destination safely.”
We find that time has little meaning anyway when the breeze is carrying scents of the ocean and the sun is shining. ♦
Lexi Holian is a freelance writer and lifelong resident of the Outer Banks. When not writing, she can be found at the beach with a book in hand.