Beach Access and Park Issues
April 27, 2009

Night driving restrictions on beaches begin May 1

Night driving will be banned on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m., beginning Friday, May 1. Enforcement of the restriction will be at midnight on Thursday, April 30.

Closing the beaches to ORVs at night is part of the court-ordered consent decree. The prohibition will remain in effect until Nov. 15. 

Under the terms of the consent decree, the National Park Service may issue permits between Sept. 16 and Nov. 15 to authorize night driving on seashore beaches between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and NPS retains the discretion to limit night driving to certain areas or routes, based on resource protection considerations. 

The Park Service will announce the availability of the night driving permits and how to obtain the permit before Sept. 15.  The permits will be available through Nov. 15 at no charge and with no limit on the number of permits.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore provides crucial nesting habitat for loggerhead and green sea turtles, as well as the occasional leatherback.  Loggerhead and green turtles are currently listed threatened under the Endangered Species Act and leatherbacks are considered endangered. 

Sea turtles typically lay nests at night between May and September, when adult turtles come ashore to dig a deep nest cavity in the sand and deposit around 100 ping-pong ball sized eggs into each nest.  While nesting, these turtles are susceptible to being disturbed by human activity on the beach.  If a nesting turtle is disturbed, it may not nest at all or may lay a nest in a less than optimal area, resulting in the nest being washed out. 

Once laid, eggs will incubate in the sand for 50 to 60 days before the hatchlings emerge and make their way to the ocean.  The hatchlings will use light cues in order to find their way from their nest to the sea, making them vulnerable to artificial lights from houses, piers, headlights, beach fires, and lanterns.  If disoriented by artificial lights, hatchlings may wander away from the ocean and often die from exhaustion or predation as they wander around the beach. 

Although studies vary, it is estimated that only one in 1,000 to one in 10,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.  Ten to 15 percent of the turtle nests laid in North Carolina are laid on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches.  In 2008, a record 112 sea turtle nests were located and protected at the seashore.

The night driving restriction will be posted at all seashore ORV access ramps.  The regulation is enforceable by NPS law enforcement rangers and violators are subject to up to six months imprisonment and up to a $5,000 fine. 

To report violations, contact: Dare Central Communications at  252-473-3444.  For further information, contact the chief ranger’s office at 252-473-2111.


Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about night driving and other access restrictions on the beach, such as bonfires, from the National Park Service.

When can I get my permit for driving on the beach at night from Sept. 16 –
Nov. 15? How much will the permit cost?

We have not yet finalized the permit for the 2009 season. It will be widely available
locally and on-line as occurred in 2008. The permit will be available prior to Sept.
16, 2009 and there will be no charge.

Can I put my name on a list right now to ensure I get a permit?

A list for night driving permits from Sept. 16 – Nov. 15 is not needed at this
time. There is no limit on the number of permits. They will be readily available
prior to the implementation date of Sept. 16, 2009.

Can I drive out to the beach, park my vehicle on the beach and fish all night,
then not drive it until 6 a.m.?

No, all vehicles must exit the beach by 10 p.m.

Can I be dropped off on the beach before 10 p.m., fish all night and be picked up at 6 a.m.?

Yes, however pedestrians are still prohibited from entering resource closures.

If I stay on the beach all night and fish, how much light can I have on the

It is okay to use flashlights, headlamps, or other low-intensity hand-held lighting.

If I launch my boat on the soundside, but I do not get back until after 10 p.m., can I use my ORV to retrieve my boat from the soundside ramp?

Yes, the night driving ban does not apply to the soundside ramps.

Does the night driving ban on vehicles apply to bicycles or horses?

No. However they are prohibited within resource closures.
Can I have a fire on the beach?

Yes. Beach fires are allowed until 12 midnight (prohibited from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m.). Fires are not permitted within resource protection closures or within 100 meters of any turtle nest closure. Before you leave the beach, you must extinguish your fire with water.

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