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Should Driving on the Beach Be Illegal?

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2008 Lexus SC430 Pebble Beach Edition

2008 Lexus SC430 Pebble Beach Edition

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Florida's pristine beaches are public property--and they're used to the usual traffic jams of tourists, wildlife and the occasional hurricane.

In and around Daytona Beach, they're also legal pathways for passenger vehicles, a century-old tradition that occasionally ends in death.

Earlier this summer, The New York Times reports, 4-year-old Aiden Patrick became the second person killed on the Daytona-area beaches by a driver. In Patrick's case and in the case of another 4-year-old, British tourist Ellie Bland who died in a March accident, both ran into the paths of oncoming vehicles operated by sober, legally licensed drivers.

The tradition of driving on the Daytona beaches dates back a hundred years, though it's not universal to other Florida beaches. St. Augustine beaches were closed to vehicular traffic after an accident a decade ago put a teenager into a coma; the teenager has since died.

On many other state beaches, driving has long been illegal--to protect wildlife, as is the case on the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which connects the Panhandle's beaches between Destin and Pensacola. Law officers patrol the beaches on ATVs and small pickup trucks, but civilians are not allowed to drive on the sand, or even park on it over concerns for sea turtles and migratory birds.

The recent incidents Daytona deaths have renewed some calls to close the beaches to all vehicles. The situation is similar to the off-road parks in California, which have been in conflict with environmentalists for most of the SUV era. That conflict came to a head in August, when an off-road race truck in southern California went out of control and hit spectators, killing 8.

But many residents in the Daytona Beach/New Smyrna Beach area prefer leaving their beaches open. In the 1950s, the beach itself was home to the budding sport of NASCAR, and hosted races until the racing series moved to Daytona International Speedway in 1959. The surrounding area and Volusia County depend heavily on NASCAR and on tourist income--and residents, the Times reports, are loathe to lose that income and a tradition dating back to the 1800s.

What's your opinion? Should driving on the beach be made illegal everywhere, or are public beaches just that--open to all users for all uses? Tell us what your vacation spot's policies are, and what you think, in the comments below.

[New York Times, ABC News]

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Comments (7)
  1. The only spot on the west coast (that I know of) where you can drive on the beach is Pismo. Long tradition of families traveling there just to run their vehicles in the sand. Lots of fun. I believe ships dumping their bilge too close to the coast causes more environmental damage than people running their ATV in the sand. There are only a few beaches in the country we are allowed to do this--no need to eliminate this outdoor recreation.
     
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  2. Driving vehicles on the beach is really fun and adventurous, but there are general rules to follow. Like speed limit is 25mph or drive only on that portion of the beach which lies between the foot of the dunes and the ocean. If only drivers will follow the rules, no accidents will happen.
     
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  3. The needless death of a 4 year old boy has to prompt a change.
    Yes, keep beach driving if you want - just ban it during the Summer months.
    I like my rights but when some fool (whilst sober and licensed we have no idea of the drivers age or IQ) in a pick-up robs a family of the most precious thing in their life you have to improve matters... unless you're a heartless fool as well.
     
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  4. Seems like lunacy to allow cars to drive through an area where children are playing. Some areas/times should be closed to cars and some areas/times should be closed to families. I'm going to take my kids to a beach where cars are not allowed.
     
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  5. I can't believe this is an issue in this day and age - nobody (except maybe police/park rangers) should be driving on beaches! I'm sure it is fun, challenging, and adventurous, and while it may be a tradition, there are many traditions that are harmful and destructive and should be stopped. Run on the beach, play frisbee on the beach, build a sand castle on the beach, drive an exhaust-spewing 2 ton vehicle on the beach.... which of these doesn't fit?
     
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  6. Here in Texas, people jealously guard their right to drive on the beach. To restrict that right takes practically an act of the Texas legislature, approval of the state Land Office, an enviromental inquiry, and an edict from the heavens above. I grew up in Florida where - except for Daytona - no-one drove on the beaches, children could run and play almost at will, and public access was guaranteed by the presence of beach-access easements and parks every so far, many with public parking offered nearby. I think the Florida system works well; the Texas system, in my opinion, leaves a lot to be desired.
     
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  7. Im sitting here at St Augustine every morning watching the cars go by on the beach...
     
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