Safety is the N.C. Department of Transportation's highest priority when it comes to those who travel North Carolina's roads. Below are some general guidelines for various situations that can help drivers, motorcyclists and bicyclists safely arrive at their destinations.
More on driver safety can be found in the Division of Motor Vehicle's driver's handbook (available in both English and Spanish). Safety guidelines are also available for motorcyclists and bicyclists.
Driving in Work Zones
Even though workers might not be present in work zones, motorists should still expect narrowed or closed lanes, traffic shifts and reduced speed limits as well as other conditions that might affect normal travel.
The following guidelines apply not only to general travel but also travel through work zones:
- Stay alert
- Wear a seat belt
- Don't drink and drive
- Be patient and obey posted speed limits. (The penalty for speeding through a marked work zone is $250.)
- Use alternate routes, when possible, to avoid traffic congestion.
- Use approved child restraints
- Be patient and obey the posted speed limit;
- Don't tailgate
- Avoid in-car distractions
- Watch out for road debris
- Leave early to get a head start on your drive and travel at non-peak times
North Carolina's "Move Over" law requires drivers to change lanes or slow down (if shifting lanes isn't possible) when passing stopped law enforcement and emergency vehicles, wreckers with flashing lights and incident management assistance patrol vehicles.
The "Fender Bender" law requires drivers involved in non-injury wrecks to clear the roadway to help keep traffic moving and reduce the likelihood of secondary crashes.
Heavy rain and flash flooding can create hazardous driving conditions, thereby increasing the likelihood of a wreck. Take the following precautions to help stay safe:
- Stay off the roads. If you must drive, be sure your tires and brakes are in good working condition.
- Allow yourself more time to get where you're going. Drive at least 5 to 10 mph slower than the speed limit on wet pavement.
- Stay alert and be ready for sudden stops. Allow at least twice the normal following distance between vehicles.
- Signal for turns and brake earlier than usual as you near a turn or stop.
- Be patient and do not pass lines of traffic.
- Turn on your headlights, as required by North Carolina law, while using your windshield wipers – regardless of the time of day.
- Turn on your low-beam headlights and use the defroster to increase visibility – regardless of whether it is day or night. High beams, or "brights," could reflect off fog and decrease visibility.
- Avoid driving through pools of standing water – even if they seem shallow. Water could be covering road hazards, such as holes, fallen power lines or debris.
- Also avoid flooded areas. A foot of water, for example, can cause vehicles to float, while 2 feet of rushing water can carry away vehicles, including SUVs and pick-up trucks.
- If your vehicle begins to hydroplane – when your tires glide across the surface of water on a road – take your foot off the gas and apply the brakes in a steady, slightly firm manner (don't stomp on them). Then steer in the direction of the skid.
- For manual transmissions, push in the clutch and let the vehicle slow down on its own.
- For automatic transmissions, hold the steering wheel steady and lightly apply the brakes.
- For vehicles with antilock brakes, apply more steady pressure to the brakes, but avoid pumping them.
Driving in Winter Weather
NCDOT proactively plans for winter weather and has crews ready to clear roads. Still, driving in icy or snowy weather can be dangerous, and the safest way to prevent a wreck is to stay off the roads. If you must travel during winter weather, take these guidelines into consideration:
- Be sure your vehicle is running well and equipped properly for driving on potentially dangerous roads.
- You should have a supply kit that includes an ice scraper, snow brush, extra windshield wiper fluid and anti-freeze and a basic automotive tool kit that includes jumper cables and flares.
- Put together a supply kit for your trunk, in case you get stranded. Include a flashlight, first-aid kit, blanket, shovel, sand (to give tires traction), non-perishable snacks and drinking water and safety flares. You might want to include other items based on your personal needs.
- Be sure you have at least a half tank of gas in your vehicle (short commutes can turn into long ones when a storm hits) and a full reservoir of windshield washer fluid.
First, don't go out unless you absolutely have to. If you must:
- Slow down and maintain a safe following distance between you and other vehicles. Pass with extreme caution. Excessive speed is the No. 1 cause of wrecks in winter weather.
- Do not use cruise control.
- Approach bridges and overpasses with extreme caution since they accumulate ice first. Do not apply your brakes while on a bridge.
- Come to a complete stop or yield the right of way when approaching an intersection where traffic lights are out. Treat this scenario as a four-way stop.
- Clear as much as possible snow and ice from your vehicle – from the windows, mirrors, roof, hood, trunk, bumper, headlights and tail lights – of snow and ice to keep it from blowing off and obscuring your view or hitting other drivers' vehicles.
- Drive smoothly, without sudden accelerating, braking or turning.
Appearing as wet spots on a road, black ice is often the result of melting ice and snow that refreezes into thin layers. While NCDOT does its best to treat areas that are prone to black ice, it is unpredictable, and most of the time, drivers aren't aware of it until it's too late. (Learn more about black ice.)
- Don't drive unless you absolutely have to do so. The safest way to avoid black ice is to stay off the roads.
- If you do have to drive, do so at a slow speed and leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you.
- Don't panic.
- Avoid using your brakes, if possible. If you have to, use them gently. (Apply gentle, steady pressure to anti-lock brakes. For standard, non-ABS brakes, pump the brake pedal gently to avoid locking up).
- Wait for your vehicle to slow down enough to regain traction before gently accelerating.
- For rear-wheel skids, turn the steering wheel in the direction your rear wheels are headed. Instead of focusing on what your vehicle might be headed toward, focus on getting out of the skid.
- For front-wheel skids, shift into neutral and don't try to steer immediately. When your vehicle begins to slow down, steer in the direction that you want your vehicle to go. Then, put the vehicle into gear and gently accelerate.
- If you begin to slide, take your foot off the gas and turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide. Applying the brakes will cause you to further lose control of your vehicle.
- Don't spin your wheels (doing so will only dig you in deeper). Instead, turn them from side to side to help clear snow, and then turn the steering wheel so the tires are as straight as possible.
- Use a shovel to clear the snow in front of and behind your tires.
- Spread cat litter, sand or salt in the cleared areas around your drive wheels.
- Another strategy involves rocking the vehicle back and forth. (Check your owner's manual first; some vehicle transmissions might be damaged using this strategy.) Shift from forward to reverse and back again, using a light touch on the gas pedal. Resist the temptation to spin your wheels.
Anyone who has been deprived of sleep runs the risk of becoming drowsy while on the road. To prevent becoming drowsy while driving:
- Get at least six hours of good sleep the night before a trip – eight hours or more is preferred
- Take a break every two hours or every 150 miles – sooner if you become drowsy. Going on a short walk or stretching will help increase blood flow and keep you awake. If possible, find a safe place where you can rest or nap.
- Travel at times when you are normally awake. Try to avoid being on the road when the human body typically wants rest: midnight to 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
- Travel with a passenger who will stay awake with you and keep a conversation going.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage and wait about 30 minutes for it to enter your bloodstream. Remember, however, that caffeine will help keep you awake but not necessarily alert.
Drivers who are distracted behind the wheel are more likely to react slower to traffic conditions than drivers who are focused on the road. Inattentive drivers are also more likely to miss potential safety hazards or less likely to skillfully conduct preventative or evasive moves to avoid a wreck.
To help cut down on distractions inside your vehicle:
- Avoid texting or talking on your cellphone while driving. Texting while driving is illegal in North Carolina as is using a cellphone if you're a driver under age 18.
- Don't eat while behind the wheel. It takes your hands off the steering wheel and your eyes off the road.
- Program your radio stations or music device for easy access and select your music before you start to drive.
- Keep the stereo at a volume low enough so that you can hear sounds outside of your vehicle such as a siren, a horn or the screeching of tires.
- Designate a front-seat passenger to serve as a "co-pilot," so you do not have to fumble with maps or navigation systems. If you are driving alone, map out destinations in advance.
- Do your personal grooming at home, not on the road.
- Teach children the importance of good behavior while in a vehicle. Do not underestimate how distracting it can be to tend to them in the car.
- Make sure pets are in a carrier.
To help limit distractions outside your vehicle:
- Avoid reading signs or watching activity on the roadside for long periods of time.
- Do not stop and talk to people who are outside your vehicle.
- Only allow passengers to enter your vehicle when it is parked in a safe location. Do not pick up riders at stoplights or stop signs.
Federal law specifies that daylight time applies from 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March until 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of November in most areas. The time change can present challenges for motorists.
- Be sure all of your vehicle's lights (i.e., headlights, parking lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, brake lights, tail and marker lights, interior lights and instrumentation lighting) work properly.
- Use the night setting on your rearview mirror to avoid the glare from headlights.
- Switch your headlights from high beam to low beam as oncoming vehicles approach.
- Be alert and watchful for bicyclists and pedestrians on the roadside and at crosswalks.
- Remove sunglasses at dusk to increase visibility. Drivers often forget they are wearing them.
- Keep your eyes moving from side to side while driving. This practice keeps your eyes adjusted to the dark and helps avoid "highway hypnosis," a state which impairs reaction time.
- Be sure you are well rested. Adjusting to the loss of an hour of sleep can make you tired. Do not drive if you feel drowsy.
The majority of deer-vehicle collisions typically occur between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. from October and December (during mating and hunting seasons) when deer movement increases and limited lighting makes it more difficult for drivers to see them on or near roads.
- Drive slowly in posted deer crossing areas and heavily wooded areas, especially during the dark hours of fall.
- Drive with your high beams on, when possible, and watch out for eyes reflecting in the headlights.
- Remember that deer often travel in groups, so don't assume that all is clear if one deer has already passed.
- Don't swerve to avoid contact with a deer. This could cause your vehicle to flip or veer into oncoming traffic, causing a more serious wreck.