Rules of the Road

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Now that the summer crowds are here, we need to talk about driving. These barrier islands technically only have two main roads, so you'd think driving around here would be simple and chill. But when you pack hundreds of thousands of people onto a few skinny islands, well, it's inevitable that complications would arise. Lately everyone's been talking about off-road driving on the Outer Banks, but let us take a moment out of our busy days to consider the rules of the Outer Banks roads.

Let's begin with the most confounding of the local roads - U.S. Highway 158, aka The Bypass, Croatan Highway, The Big Road, through Nags Head, KDH and Kitty Hawk. It's a five-laner, two lanes running in opposite directions with a center lane up the middle, and it's that center lane that gets people. It's a turn lane, y'all. You use it only for turning left. When you have to turn left off of the Bypass, turn on your signal, get in the center lane, wait until the coast is clear, then turn. If you're turning left onto the Bypass and can't get all the way across, it's legal to turn left across the first two lanes and then hover in the center lane while waiting to merge into the right lanes of traffic.

The center lane is not, we repeat, not, an HOV lane or a miraculous open driving lane. You'll see people driving in the lane, looking like they got some kind of lucky hall pass, but that's highly dangerous as sooner or later they're going to meet a vehicle sitting in that lane waiting to turn left or merge into traffic.

Though the speed limit on the Bypass is 45 or 50 -- depending on where you are on that road, in the summer it's rare that you can get up that much speed, what with the stoplights and fellow travelers. The major thing to look out for on the Bypass in the summer is brake tappers and sudden slammers in front of you. Remember, most of the people here are visitors and most of them have absolutely no idea where they are going. With everything laid out in a straight line, visiting drivers are prone to slamming on brakes suddenly to turn, or, worse, slamming on brakes to turn, aborting the turn, taking off again, slamming on brakes to turn, aborting the turn...

On the other spectrum of the Bypass is N.C. Highway 12, aka, The Beach Road, Virginia Dare Trail. It's the relaxed, two-lane, beachside counterpart running parallel to the Bypass in Nags Head, KDH and Kitty Hawk. The speed limit over there is 35 miles per hour so it's driving at a much easier pace. People tend to think that the Bypass is a faster means of travel than the Beach Road because of the speed limit difference, but in the summer it's really not.

A few summers ago when I was teaching yoga in Kitty Hawk, I had to travel from milepost 16 to milepost 1 in the midst of the coffee-doughnut rush on summer mornings. I timed the Bypass vs. the Beach Road several times, and the time was almost the same. The Beach Road might have taken three minutes longer, but I'll take the Beach Road over the Bypass any day. The Beach Road doesn't have all the brake slamming and lane switching and passing and angry tailgaters. When I choose the Beach Road I'm expecting to go a little slower, and being beside the ocean gives me that happy beachy mentality.

Visitors, here's a little reminder: The Outer Banks uses milepost markers to help people find their way to where they're going. Milepost markers are on the right side of the road. They are vertical green signs with white numbers on them. Milepost 0 is at the Wright Memorial Bridge in Kitty Hawk. Milepost 21 is in South Nags Head. Hatteras Island continues the milepost system. Milepost 72 is at the end of Hatteras village on Hatteras Island. If you don't know where you're going, before you head out, give the place a call or look at one of our sites since we give the milepost number in our address lines, and use the markers. By the way, one of the local lifeguards' favorite stupid questions is "How far apart are the mileposts?"

So I'll quit rambling and just lay out some tips here. Feel free to add to my list. You can make comments on this blog below on the Add Your Voice button.

- The Bypass center lane is for turning left only.

- On the Bypass, slower traffic should stay to the right. If you don't know where you're going, stay right.

- Do not tailgate. Expect the car in front of you to brake suddenly. (Another reason not to text or use your smartphone features while driving.)

- Watch speed limit signs on the Bypass. There's a new 45 mph zone from Wright Brothers Memorial to Villa Dunes Drive in Nags Head.

- Watch speed limit signs closely on U.S. 168/158 in Currituck County en route to Outer Banks. The speed limit changes frequently and the local cops are usually waiting for you if you miss a sign.

- Look out for jaywalkers and bicyclists. Some people will ride their bikes alongside traffic on the Bypass so keep a lookout for them.

- On the Beach Road, if you see pedestrians on the side of the road, it's the law to stop at crosswalks to let them cross.

- When you're pulling out of a business or driveway onto the Beach Road or N.C. 12 in Duck and Corolla, be sure to use caution crossing the bike paths. Bikers, walkers and joggers have the right of way on the bike paths.

- If you're arriving on a summer weekend, expect traffic jams in lower Currituck County, Duck and Corolla. Arriving before noon or after 8 p.m. is suggested. Many suggest getting here first thing in the morning then camping out on the beach until your check-in time.

- It goes without saying, but don't drink and drive. Cabs and shuttles are available when you need them.

If you have a little more time to think about traffic, here's a link to a funny article on tourist driving moves written by Rob Morris on Outer Banks Voice.

But you're at the beach! Who wants to be in their car anyway? When June rolls around I try to spend as little time as possible in my car. But you'll have to drive to get to some of these things to do, so be careful on the way.

Tonight and tomorrow night at Roanoke Island Festival Park, UNC Pembroke is presenting a musical Fosse Revue. All summer long there will be other programs at Festival Park presented by schools in the UNC system. Look for music, drama and kids' shows. Next week's show is a drama called <a data-cke-saved-href=" href=" title="" i="" love="" you,="" you're="" perfect,="" now="" change.""="" target="_blank">"I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change." Click here for a list of their summer events.

On Thursday at the Whalehead Club, see a free show by the U.S. Air Force Rhythm in Blue Jazz Ensemble. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets to spread out on the lawn. Show starts at 6 p.m. The ensemble is playing again on Saturday, this time in Duck Town Park at 6 p.m.

Friday is World Oceans Day, and the National Park Service is holding several free events that help people appreciate the ocean resources of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. At 9:30 a.m. at the Ocracoke Campground, there's Explore the Shore, a ranger-led walk across the undeveloped ocean beaches. At 11 a.m. Sea Turtles for Kids offers interactive activities at the Hatteras Island Visitor Center by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. At 3 p.m. at Bodie Island Visitor Center, Sentinels of the Shore is an opportunity to learn about the history of and future plans for the park's lighthouses.

The National Park Service is offering a Fee Free Day at Wright Brothers National Memorial on Saturday, so it's the perfect day to check out the site and save some bucks.

Kitty Hawk Kites' Rogallo Kite Festival is this weekend on Jockey's Ridge in Nags Head. This two-day (Saturday and Sunday) festival features kite flying on the dunes of Jockey's Ridge as well as nightly entertainment celebrating the history of kiting. Spectators can see huge kites that will take the shape of sea animals as well as other large specialty kites flown throughout the event. Throughout the two-day festival, there will be exhibitions and demonstrations including stunt and power kite lessons, free children's games and activities, and much more! The events are free.

That's certainly not all that's going on. The Lost Colony is playing every Monday through Saturday. The local attractions have all kinds of programs, and the bars and clubs are full of live music. See our By Night and By Day sections for the lowdown. And don't forget to enter our Weekly Facebook Giveaway (see details below). The prizes just keep getting better!


Outer Banks This Week Giveaway





This week you have a chance to win a Free $25 gift certificate to The Blue Point plus a $50 gift certificate to Barr-ee Station!

For more information about The Blue Point, check out their website.

For more information about Barr-ee Station, check out their website.


Last Week's Winner

Congratulations to Lisa Scott!

You won a Free $50 gift certificate to Gray's Family Department Store plus a Free Outer Banks Sounds original CD!


For more information about Gray's Family Department Store, check out their website.

For more information about Dare County Arts Council, check out their website.


About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.