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Catherine Wright: Rules of the road

July 26, 2013 

Catherine Wright

  • Road rules

    Interested in checking up on your “road rules” knowledge?

    Check out the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Road Rules webpage:

    Or skim through the North Carolina Driver’s Handbook, available for download through the Division of Motor Vehicle’s website:

When the traffic lights in Hillsborough went out last month, I called 911 – not because I thought a power outage in the town’s main thoroughfare was an emergency but because suddenly no one seemed to know how to drive.

Although I stopped at the intersection just north of Interstate 85, car after car in the south-bound lane of South Churton Street sped through. It was the same at nearly every intersection. And at each one of those intersections, I blared my horn waiting for the cars opposite me to stop and treat the intersection like the four-way stop it now was.

“Do they not notice that the traffic lights are out?” I wondered. “Or are they ignorant of the most basic rules of the road? Or do they just not care?”

“They don’t care,” one of the women in my book club said when I posed my questions to them. Everyone nodded in agreement.

But any way you look at it, it is a traffic hazard: oblivious drivers, ignorant drivers, drivers with a blatant disregard for safety.

Maybe some of the drivers were too busy texting, checking email or otherwise using their cellphones to notice that the only green light they had was all the other drivers ahead of them blazing through an unlit intersection.

Or maybe some of them managed to pass their driver’s test without ever really opening their driver’s handbook. The handbook is online now, and that bit of information about treating the intersection like a four-way stop is on page 70 under the heading “Traffic Signals.” See Chapter 5 – Signals, Signs and Pavement Markings:

“When approaching an intersection with a traffic light that has malfunctioned due to a power outage or some other problem, you should approach the intersection and proceed as though the intersection is controlled by a stop sign on all approaches to the intersection.”

If you need further instruction, check page 50 of Chapter 4 – Your Driving:

“In intersections without traffic signs or signals, the right-of-way rules state that … when two or more vehicles reach an intersection at the same time, the vehicle to the right has the right of way.”

Of course, some drivers know all that. They just think their need to get home, to McDonald’s or wherever is more important than everyone else’s need to do the same.

The audacity of these drivers to ignore the traffic rules and the cars backed up east and west of them angered me. But the drivers I encountered elsewhere in North Carolina and in Georgia this month who continued to speed along highways in torrential rains with little visibility and no headlights on scared me.

Obviously, they’re aware of the law. My husband kept expecting the cars around us to switch on their lights as we passed under electronic highway signs reading “N.C. state law: When wipers in use, turn on headlights.” None did.

Maybe obeying the rules of traffic safety seems wimpy or uncool. But standing up to a downpour by stealthily speeding through it in a dark car doesn’t seem smart.

I imagine the drivers in those five or six accidents I saw around the Atlanta area now think the same.

Catherine Wright lives and works in Hillsborough and likes to follow the rules of the road. Write to her at

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