Beach Access, Coastal Preservation
August 03 2012

Beach Driving: Part 1

by Carolyn LaBarbiera and Joe Matuk, Surfrider Summer Interns

This is part 1 of a 3-part blog series that explores issues related to beach driving through several case studies as well as by highlighting impacts that can occur even through non-public beach driving.


Beach driving occurs in several states throughout the U.S., many of which consider this tradition as a way of life. In these parts of the U. S., fisherman, surfers and recreationalists alike rely on beach vehicle use to access isolated surf spots or to transport their beach gear. What is gained in access often turns into losses for the environment. Beach driving can be a contentious issue because of this aforementioned dichotomy. Most recently, public beach driving restrictions on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, has been the topic of heated debate among environmental groups, locals, preservation groups and both the local and federal government. This struggle between access, tradition and economic benefits, and environmental and safety concerns is rampant throughout most, if not all, of the states that allow public beach driving.


In contrast, California beaches are not typically thought of as having heavy vehicle traffic. In fact, California disallows public driving on almost every beach, with a few exceptions. So that means that the ecology of California beaches doesn’t suffer, right?


Although there may not be vehicle beach use by the public, many California beaches are wrought with tire tracks from lifeguard trucks and maintenance vehicles. States like North Carolina, Florida, Texas and Oregon all rely on vehicular access to beaches in some areas, and must balance this access with conservation and awareness of the negative impacts to nesting birds, dunes, burrowing invertebrates, and sea turtles. California may not have to grapple with access issues, but the environmental impacts are still of great concern. One environmental group in particular, the Beach Ecology Coalition, is working towards establishing environmentally friendly beach driving protocols, starting in southern California.

You can learn more about beach driving on Beachapedia at:

Here is Part 2 of this series.