Driving in North Carolina
North Carolina, also known as the Tar Heel State or the Old North State, is crisscrossed by an array of scenic roads that will take you from the mountains to the seashore.
In fact, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has named 60 scenic byways within the state. The most famous is the Blue Ridge Parkway, known as "America's Favorite Drive," a 469-mile trip through North Carolina and Virginia. Or, for a contrasting experience, consider exploring the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, which follows the North Carolina coast along the barrier islands. To complete the trip, you must drive 142.5 miles and take two ferries.
"North Carolina is a wonderful state, with so much scenic beauty to offer, as well as charming little Mayberry and cosmopolitan locales such as Charlotte," says Greg Freeman, who publishes SouthernEdition.com, a digital publication about the American South. The state is "a happening place" thanks to a host of new economic development activity, he says.
"That said, when you explore a major city or make your way to one of those quaint little out-of-the-way towns, watch your speedometer," he warns.
Freeman learned this lesson the hard way on a trip to Virginia a few years ago when he failed to spot a sign showing a quick speed limit decrease to 55 mph just outside Durham. With the city skyline in view, he saw blue lights flashing. He knew he was "caught speeding fair and square" but was surprised to learn that, because he had been going 15 mph over the limit, he had to appear in court or get an attorney to do so on his behalf. The whole matter cost him $500 in lawyer fees.
"The next time I'm in Durham, I think I'll be tempted to slow way down and take my own sweet time enjoying the afternoon tea at the Umstead Hotel in nearby Cary," he says.
North Carolina Auto Insurance Regulations
In North Carolina, drivers must carry both liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. The state of North Carolina requires auto insurance in the following minimum amounts:
- $30,000 in liability insurance for bodily injury to or death of one person
- $60,000 in liability insurance per accident for bodily injury to or death of two or more people
- $25,000 in liability insurance for property damage
- Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage of at least $30,000 per person, $60,000 per accident and $25,000 for property damage
While 49 states (all except New Hampshire) require liability coverage in set minimum amounts, North Carolina is one of only 21 states that requires uninsured motorist coverage and one of only 12 that requires underinsured motorist coverage.
This coverage can really come in handy by protecting you and your passengers – and possibly avoiding an expensive and drawn out lawsuit – if you're involved in a crash with a driver who has ignored insurance laws or in cases where the insurance levels they purchased aren't enough to cover costly injuries.
North Carolinian Car Culture
Unlike some Southern states where powerful pick-ups rule the road, the most popular vehicle in North Carolina is the understated and ultra practical Honda Accord.
Despite the mild weather in the state, Subarus are also extremely popular, says Brittney Murray, an automotive writer and North Carolina resident who has lived in the state for two years. "I attribute this to the sheer number of northerners residing in the area – Cary, North Carolina, has been dubbed the 'Center of All Relocated Yankees,' and appropriately so," she says.
Unlike in some Northern states, though, residents of the "Old North State" don't seem to be in much of a hurry. "The most distinguishing and universal driving habit you'll see on North Carolina highways is that a lot of drivers ride in the left lane, despite not using it to pass other vehicles," says Murray, who previously lived in Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Texas. Unlike drivers in many other states, it's common for North Carolinians to cruise along quite slowly in the left lane, which can leave major highways like I-95 backed up with traffic, she says.
Urban vs. Rural Roads
Driving on urban roads is generally a safer experience than driving on rural roads, which pose dangers ranging from hills to rough surfaces to livestock crossings.
Although more miles are driven on highways, 51 percent of U.S. crash deaths happened on rural roads in 2016 while 49 percent occurred on urban roads, according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, rural roads in North Carolina are even more dangerous, with 62 percent of crash deaths occurring on rural byways compared with just 37 percent on urban routes and 1 percent unknown.
Road condition might play a role in the higher number of rural fatalities in the state. A 2017 study on rural roads by TRIP, a national transportation safety group, found that 10 percent of North Carolina's rural roads are in bad shape, and another 20 percent are in mediocre shape.
Miles Driven in the Old North State
Generally, Americans are driving more today than they did a few years ago, and that's one reason for recent increases in traffic deaths. In 2016, the United States had more than 37,000 fatal vehicle crashes.
However, the number of miles driven per person in North Carolina has actually declined slightly, from 11,362 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita in 2007 to 10,762 traveled in 2012.
However, the traffic fatality rate in North Carolina in 2016 is slightly higher than average at 1.26 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared with a U.S. average of 1.16 deaths. It's not as risky to drive North Carolina roads as it is to take a trip through neighboring South Carolina, though, which has the worst traffic fatality rate in the country at 1.88 deaths per 100 million VMT. South Carolina is one of 19 states that have higher traffic fatality rates than North Carolina.
Gas Prices in North Carolina
Gas prices affect safety on the roads because drivers tend to get in their cars less when prices rise at the pump. And less driving can mean fewer crashes.
However, in North Carolina, frugal drivers fare slightly better than the average U.S. driver. In fact, the average gas price in North Carolina in early April 2018 was $2.559 per gallon, compared with the U.S. average gas price of $2.662 per gallon. That means North Carolinians save about a dime on every gallon over the average U.S. driver.
Even when gas prices are relatively low, though, it's always wise to economize on fuel to keep more money in your wallet. North Carolinians can accomplish that goal with these gas saving tips that also help to increase driving safety.
Unemployment Rate in the Tar Heel State
A state's unemployment rate can influence the number of accidents on its roads and highways. That's because, not surprisingly, people tend to drive less when they're unemployed.
The unemployment rate for North Carolina in February 2018 was 4.5 percent, slightly higher than the overall U.S unemployment rate of 4.1 percent for the same month. In fact, North Carolina comes in at No. 33 on a list of U.S. state unemployment rates ranked from lowest to highest (as of November 2017).
While that's not great news for job seekers in North Carolina, the upside could be fewer drivers and safer roads.
Efforts to Remediate Distracted Driving
Distracted driving happens when you down breakfast on the way to work, peek at a buzzing cell phone or brush your hair while waiting at a stoplight.
There are many causes of distracted driving, and the consequences can be deadly. In fact, distracted driving factored in crashes that injured 391,000 and killed 3,477 people in 2015 across the United States.
Many states are trying to put the brakes on this dangerous problem by passing laws to encourage drivers to focus on the road. North Carolina, along with 46 other states and the District of Columbia, bans texting while driving for all drivers.
Other states – 15, plus the District of Columbia – have gone even further by banning handheld phones for all uses, including talking on the phone while driving. However, though legislators in North Carolina proposed a handheld ban in 2017, the state still allows handheld use for all drivers 18 or older.
Drivers under 18 are not permitted to use handheld devices, and it's a primary law, meaning a police officer can stop a driver solely for that reason.
Teen Driving Regulations in North Carolina
In the North Carolina graduated driver licensing program, teens must go through three steps in order to receive a full driver license. This helps teens learn driving skills while curtailing their freedom behind the wheel until they've become adept on the road.
Here are the three phases of the North Carolina teen driver licensing program:
- A teen who is at least 15 years old may get a Limited Learner's Permit, which allows them to drive with supervision. The supervisor must be a driver who has been licensed for at least five years and sits in the front passenger seat at all times. For the first six months of holding an LLP, the teen may drive with their supervisor only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. After six months, the teen may drive at any time with a supervising driver.
- After holding a Limited Learner's Permit for 12 months, and passing a road test, a teen who is 16 or 17 years old and has had 60 hours of driving practice may apply to get a Limited Provisional License. To get the license, the teen must have no convictions for moving, seat belt or mobile phone violations in the previous six months. With this license, the teen may drive unsupervised between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. and when going to or from work or to a volunteer fire or emergency medical position. When driving unsupervised, the new driver may drive with no more than one passenger under age 21 in the vehicle.
- After holding a Limited Provisional License for at least six months, a teen can apply for a Full Provisional License. To be eligible, the teen must not have any convictions for moving, seat belt or mobile phone violations in the previous six months. With a Full Provisional License, the teen may drive unsupervised at any time of day or night.
Teens with any of the three permits or licenses are not allowed to use a mobile phone or any associated technology while driving. It's important for North Carolina parents to monitor teen driving to make sure their child follows these rules and to put the brakes on any problems while the teen learns to drive safely.
The State of Driving in North Carolina
Whether you want to spend time in the city or take a leisurely road trip with views of mountains or coastal villages, North Carolina has plenty to offer. As you get behind the wheel and set off to explore the Tar Heel State, remember to buckle up, focus on the road and follow the speed limit to stay safe and avoid costly tickets.