Updated June 26, 2016
By Grace West
Bicycles are a big part of the transportation landscape on Ocracoke.
It may be hard to imagine that in the early 1890s when the two-wheelers that we know were first introduced, while the public took to them with fervor, some voices sounded an alarm.
According to the book “The Wright Brothers,” by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2015), “bicycles were proclaimed morally hazardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot,” McCullough writes. “Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spending the time they should with books.”
Nonetheless, bicycling grabbed the public, and the Wright brothers, built their own bicycles for sale while also solving the problem of human flight, first proven in 1903 up the beach at Kitty Hawk.
Now, bicycles are a norm on Ocracoke and elsewhere.
Golf carts are the norm here, too, since North Carolina in 2009 passed a blanket law allowing the use of golf carts on roads in villages that accepted this ordinance.
Several businesses rent golf carts, realty companies rent bikes and other beach equipment, and many inns rent or provide bikes for their guests.
We also have a 3.5-mile bike path from the edge of the village to the NPS campground.
Being safe is what everyone wants, but we all know that in a split second accidents can happen.
My bike accident in 2014 resulted in a broken arm. Thank goodness that was all. However, even a broken arm is a big deal on a small island without a hospital and X-ray equipment.
After an almost three-hour ambulance ride to the nearest hospital in Nags Head, my medical treatment was only beginning. The closest sports medicine hand surgeons are three- to five-hour drives from Ocracoke.
I’m happy to say I am almost fully recovered now, although I lost nine months of work (massage therapy). After two years I am still paying medical bills.
I now always wear my helmet, pay close attention, and, if needed, get off my bike and wait while a potentially dangerous situation is happening around me.
If this article can help you do the same, perhaps an accident can be prevented, and even a life saved, for, several years ago, two golf cart accidents resulted in the loss of two lives.
Captain Jason Daniels of the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department here on Ocracoke stresses that law enforcement wants everyone to enjoy the island and be safe.
Whether you bring your own bike, own a golf cart, or rent these items, it is important to know and abide by the law for everyone’s safety.
“It takes a village” is a phrase often used here because the village is a close-knit community that works together.
Daniels said the deputies appreciate your help by calling their office at 252-928-7301 and reporting any concerns you have about bike and cart safety, identifying the location and a description so that they can follow up.
Both bikes and carts must follow the same traffic laws that apply to cars: stopping at stop signs, signaling when turning and driving with traffic.
Especially important is that the law mandates helmets for children ages 15 and under.
It is a good idea for adults also to wear helmets.
Bikes are required by law to have a light for night riding. Ocracoke has many dark streets and a bike without a light is an accident waiting to happen, both in not seeing obstacles nor being seen by cars. Also, you could receive a ticket.
Bike on the right side; walk on the left side of the roads.
Golf cart rules
To drive a golf cart, it is the law that you must be at least 16 years old. Being 15 years old with a driver’s permit does not apply. Most golf cart rental businesses require a person to be an 18-year-old licensed driver.
Golf carts may pull over to the right and stop to let traffic pass, but they must come to a full stop.
Daniels said that about 75 percent of the DWIs on Ocracoke are given to golf-cart drivers. For that infraction, you lose your license and your golf cart.
It is very important not to be impaired when you drive. Ocracoke Village is small enough that you can walk home if need be.
A law for golf carts especially important for children under 8 years old is to wear a seat belt. Infants must have their appropriate seat strapped in. And all children need their own place to sit (not on your lap).
Golf carts are not allowed on the bike path, on Highway 12 past Howard’s Pub, or in the Community Cemetery.