Earlier today, a man driving a horse-drawn buggy was hit by a tractor-trailer while traveling on Highway 601 in Union County. Although the buggy was demolished and its contents spread over the highway, the driver and the horses escaped the accident without serious injury. The buggy driver was sent to the hospital immediately after the accident but was released shortly thereafter. The horses were sent to a nearby horse farm to be cared for. The buggy driver is a veteran of the Vietnam War who has suffered complications from Agent Orange and recently received a terminal diagnosis. As a result of his wish to not just “die on the porch,” he quit his job after receiving his diagnosis, hitched up his buggy and drove from his home in Tennessee to Niagara Falls, New York. Since then, he has been traveling about ten miles each day and camping at various places. Clearly, this accident is not the beginning or the end of this buggy driver’s story, but it does raise questions about the rights of a horse and buggy on the road.
The Motor Vehicles Chapter defines a “vehicle” in G.S. 20-4.01(49) as
Every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this Chapter bicycles shall be deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the provisions of this Chapter applicable to the driver of a vehicle except those which by their nature can have no application. This term shall not include a device which is designed for and intended to be used as a means of transportation for a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement, is suitable for use both inside and outside a building, including on sidewalks, and is limited by design to 15 miles per hour when the device is being operated by a person with a mobility impairment, or who uses the device for mobility enhancement. This term shall not include an electric personal assistive mobility device as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(7a).
A horse and buggy fits within this definition, so wherever a “vehicle” (but not “motor vehicle”) is referred to in the chapter, this includes a horse and buggy. Therefore, a buggy driver must use handsignals when turning (G.S. 20-154), drive on the right side of the road (G.S. 20-146), yield to pedestrians at crosswalks (G.S. 20-173), and have lamps on the buggy when used at night (G.S. 20-129). Also, a buggy driver who drives his buggy on a public street while impaired does so in violation of the driving while impaired statute (G.S. 20-138.1).
However, although the buggy driver must obey all traffic laws for vehicles, it obviously will not be traveling as fast as a motor vehicle on a highway. G.S. 20-146(b) provides that
Upon all highways any vehicle proceeding at less than the legal maximum speed limit shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for thru traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the highway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn.
So the buggy driver had an obligation under north carolina statute to drive as “close as practicable to the… edge of the highway.” Looking at the pictures in the news report, Highway 601 does not have a full shoulder at the place where the accident occurred. The highway is divided by a median and has two lanes going in each direction. The buggy is wide enough that it would take up the entire right-hand lane.
Then how should the tractor-trailer have proceeded upon encountering the buggy on the highway? Clearly, not by slamming into the back of it, but what are the requirements for passing a slow-moving vehicle? G.S. 20-149(a) requires that “[t]he driver of any such vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at least two feet to the left thereof, and shall not again drive to the right side of the highway until safely clear of such overtaken vehicle.” Because the buggy is wide enough to take up the entire right-hand lane, the tractor trailer should have pulled into the left-hand lane to pass, just as if the tractor-trailer had wanted to pass a car.
There is one more issue that we need to look at. The Department of Transportation has the authority to create regulations for the use of state highways. One such regulation the DOT has created is 19A NCAC 02E .0409, which states that “[i]t is unlawful for any person to ride any animal, or to operate a bicycle or horse drawn wagon or any nonmotorized vehicle or moped on any interstate or other fully controlled access highway.” Therefore, we must look at whether Highway 601 is a fully controlled access highway.
19A NCAC 02E .0201(6) defines a controlled access highway as “[a] highway on which entrance and exit accesses are permitted only at designated points.” Looking at the pictures from the news report, there appears to be a left turn lane in the background of the accident footage. Furthermore, a quick look on Google Maps shows an intersection with Landsford Road, close to where the accident occurred. This all leads us to conclude that Highway 601 at the place where the accident occurred is not a “fully controlled access highway,” and the buggy was not prohibited from being drive on it. If the buggy driver had tried to take his horse and buggy on I-77, on the other hand, it would be another story.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact an attorney at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC (704) 714-1450, to discuss your options.