Vera and Ralph Buxton ride their bikes frequently around Ocracoke and they always wear helmets. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

The Hyde County sheriff deputies on Ocracoke don’t want to worry that they’ll have to respond to a child who’s been seriously injured from a bicycle fall.

That’s why they, and especially Deputy Jay Neal, are trying to make sure every child (and every adult) wears a helmet while riding bikes around the village.

Parents have to help enforce this, he said.

“I’ve got a friend who used to fight me in Nags Head about that whole, ‘It’s just a bicycle’ until his daughter got killed because she wasn’t wearing a helmet,” he said.

In 2015, 12-year-old Brianna Blumenthal was riding her bicycle on Colington Drive in Nags Head when someone who couldn’t see the traffic light due to sun glare ran a red light. Brianna subsequently died from brain swelling.

Most bicycle fatalities could be prevented by wearing a helmet because most bike accidents are falls.

“You’re not getting run over by a Mack truck, but you fall off and you bump your head, your brain swells and you die,” he said. “Here, it’s even worse because it’s a three-hour trip to the hospital–on a good day.”

Neal, a mountain bike rider himself who always wears a helmet, cautions that the island roads can be treacherous because of their narrowness and lack of shoulders.

“The roads are barely big enough for two cars,” he said.

Mainly, however, it’s the law that children under the age of 16 must wear helmets. If deputies stop kids without them, they could track down the kids’ parents and write them a ticket.

All of the vehicle traffic laws apply to bicycles, and if bicyclists get a ticket, that can accrue to points on their driving record.

“I cannot believe we don’t have dead people everywhere,” Neal said about the lax nighttime bike riders.  He shakes his head.  “There’s no (street) lights. It’s pitch dark; they’re riding in dark clothes on a bike.”

Neal hears the refrain, “It’s just Ocracoke,” as the excuse from people in bikes and golf carts flout the traffic laws.

“Every week, you have a new bunch of people who seem to have never ridden a bike,” he said. “We try to be nice, because we know you’re on vacation, but it’s more serious than they think.”

The following are all offenses that can result in a ticket and/or points on your driving record:

  • Ride on the right-hand side road, just as in a car. “There’s no state that allows bikes to ride on the wrong side of the road,” Neal said.
  • Use arm signals.
  • Do not wear ear buds while bike riding.
  • Make a full stop at stop signs.
  • Never pass anything on the right.
  • Don’t pull off to the right to make a left turn. Stay in the road as you would in a car.
  • Do not ride a bike while carrying a baby in a backpack.
  • Children in baby seats or in trailers behind bicycles have to wear helmets.
  • It’s the law to have a light on your bike for night riding.