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As summer approaches, millions of people will drive down Interstate 64 (I-64) headed for the Outer Banks of North Carolina (NC) to enjoy Cape Hatteras, Ocracoke, Bodie, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and plenty of other beautiful locations. Many tourists and residents enjoy taking their vehicles off-road onto the beaches for surf casting and other activities. The environmental community has objected to off-road vehicles on the beaches of Cape Hatteras and other areas because they are concerned with the preservation of endangered species like the Piping Plover bird and various species of sea turtles.

Environmentalists assert that continuing to allow cars, trucks, ATVs, and SUVs on the beaches violates provisions in the Endangered Species Act and the National Park Service Organic Act. Conversely, off-road vehicle advocates assert that they are being denied access to the beach. Both sides have taken hard-line stances, even going so far as to commit acts of vandalism at committee meetings which were aimed at trying to resolve the issue. Most people involved in the matter believe the issue will need to be resolved in court.

Given the regulations in place, it appears restrictions for off-road vehicle use on the beaches will prevail. For example, the National Park Service Organic Act states:

“The [National Park] service thus established shall…conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

This doesn’t mean all off-road vehicle activity will end and people who say they will be “denied beach access” are inaccurate. The compromise resolution still allows off-road vehicles onto the beach but in a limited parameter. Considering surveys show that less than 10 percent visitors drive their vehicles on the beach, this compromise is reasonable and should be embraced by both sides.

As a North Carolina injury lawyer and person who loves the beach, I tend to think fewer autos near the waterline is better. Some provision should be made for locals who need to drive on the beach to get home or for necessary business, but there is little reason for tourist to do donuts on the sand in their SUV’s for fun. Also, I know of cases where drunk or reckless people behind the wheel have caused death and serious injury on OBX beaches that might be avoided if the rules decreased the number of cars and trucks dodging each other, children jumping waves, and other obstacles near the surf.

About the Editors: Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm (NC-VA law offices ) edits the injury law blogs Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard, Virginia Beach Injuryboard, and Norfolk Injuryboard as a pro bono service to consumers.


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