North Carolina Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws



If you've been injured in a car accident in the State of North Carolina, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we'll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of North Carolina statutes in each section.

Here are the North Carolina car accident and traffic laws we'll cover:

Pedestrian Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk, except at intersections where the movement of traffic is being regulated by traffic officers or traffic direction devices.
Section 20-155

Pedestrian Control Signals

Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words Walk or Don't Walk are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:

  1. Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
  2. Don't Walk. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian's crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don't Walk signal is showing.
Section 20-172

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.

Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.

Pedestrians can cross an intersection diagonally only when it is authorized by traffic-control devices.
Section 20-174

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway.

Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it's shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Section 20-174

Pedestrians' Right of Way on Sidewalks

The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.
Section 20-173

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver's horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person on the roadway.
Section 20-174

Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Section 20-114.1

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When passing another driver in the same direction
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • Upon a roadway with three marked lanes of traffic
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
Section 20-146

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left with at least two feet of distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Section 20-149

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic.
Section 20-150

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
  • When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
  • On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
  • When driving in a lane designating a right turn on a red traffic signal light.
Section 20-150.1

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is "reasonable and prudent", having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway. A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Section 20-152

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

Drivers less than 18 years of age must not drive while using a mobile electronic device, except to contact emergency services.
Section 20-137.3

Drivers must not drive while using a mobile electronic device to write, read, or send any form of text messages, except to contact emergency services.
Section 20-137.4A

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.
Section 20-155

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Section 20-155

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway to be crossed.
Section 20-156

Motorcycling Laws

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Section 20-146.1

"Lane Splitting"

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as "lane splitting," motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
Section 20-146.1

Helmet Law

All motorcyclists and their passengers must wear helmets while riding on roadways.
Section 20-140.4

Motorcycles and Headlights

Every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one and not more than two headlights turned on at all times.
Section 20-129

Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements

Aggressive Driving

A driver who drives carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Section 20-141.6

Reckless Driving

A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Section 20-140

Alcohol and Minors

It is unlawful for a person less than 21 years old to drive any alcohol or controlled substance in his body, but a person less than 21 years old is permitted to drive with a controlled substance in their body if the substance has been lawfully obtained and taken in therapeutically appropriate amounts.
Section 20-138.3

Driver's Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person must remain with the vehicle at the scene of the crash until a law-enforcement officer completes the investigation of the crash or authorizes the driver to leave, unless remaining at the scene places the driver or others at significant risk of injury.

The driver must give his or her name, address, driver's license number and the license plate number of the vehicle to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover, the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance.
Section 20-166

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person must remain with the vehicle at the scene of the crash until a law-enforcement officer completes the investigation of the crash or authorizes the driver to leave, unless remaining at the scene places the driver or others at significant risk of injury.

The driver must give his or her name, address, driver's license number and the license plate number of the vehicle to any person involved in the accident.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance.
Section 20-166

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting in property damage must remain with the vehicle at the scene of the crash until a law-enforcement officer completes the investigation of the crash or authorizes the driver to leave, unless remaining at the scene places the driver or others at significant risk of injury.

The driver must give his or her name, address, driver's license number and the license plate number of the vehicle to any person involved in the accident.
Section 20-166

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located, the driver must give his or her name, address, driver's license number and the license plate number of the vehicle to any person involved in the accident.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident report the accident to the nearest police officer or must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name, address, information relating to financial responsibility (insurance) and the registration number of their car.
Section 20-166

Driver's Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage must immediately by the quickest means of communication notify the appropriate law enforcement agency.

If the accident occurred in a city or town, the appropriate agency is the police department of the city or town. If the accident occurred outside a city or town, the appropriate agency is the State Highway Patrol or the sheriff's office or other qualified rural police of the county where the accident occurred.
Section 20-166.1

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

A law-enforcement officer who investigates an accident must make a written report of the accident within 24 hours of the accident. The report must contain information on financial responsibility for the vehicle driven by the at-fault driver.

If the officer writing the report is a member of the State Highway Patrol, the officer must forward the report to the Division. If the officer is not a member of the State Highway Patrol, the officer must forward the report to the local law enforcement agency for the area where the accident occurred. A local law enforcement agency that receives an accident report must forward it to the Division within 10 days after receiving the report.

When a person injured in a reportable accident dies as a result of the accident within 12 months after the accident and the death was not reported in the original report, the law enforcement officer investigating the accident must file a supplemental report that includes the death.
Section 20-166.1

Accident Report Forms

The Division must provide forms or procedures for submitting crash data to persons required to make reports under this section and the reports shall be made in a format approved by the Commissioner.

The report must call for the cause of the crash, the conditions existing at the time of the crash, the persons and vehicles involved in the accident, and whether the vehicle has been seized and is subject to forfeiture.
Section 20-166.1

Open Alcohol Container Law

A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage while on North Carolina roadways.

An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment.

Passengers of a motor home, a house trailer, or a hired vehicle can consume and possess an opened container.
Section 20-138.7

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In North Carolina, a driver is guilty of the offense of Impaired Driving if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Section 20-138.1

Ignition Interlock Device

North Carolina has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.

A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.

Under North Carolina law, a person who sells or provides alcohol to a minor is liable for the personal injuries and property damages caused by the intoxicated minor.
Section 18B-1A

Liability Laws

North Carolina Dram Shop Law

In the State of North Carolina, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $30,000 per person
  • At least $60,000 for two or more people
  • $25,000 per occurrence for property damage
Section 20-279.5

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

For information about auto insurance, see the North Carolina Department of Insurance's Consumer Guide.

Contributory Negligence

In North Carolina, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim's liability in causing the accident, their contributory negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives. If the victim contributed at all to accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Section 1B-1

Example of Contributory Negligence

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie's lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson's car crashed into Melanie's. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson's negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie's equaled 30%. The jury was barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 1B-1
Right of Way: Section 20-155
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 20-137.3

North Carolina's Fault-based Car Insurance

In North Carolina, the law does not require car owners to purchase auto insurance, but they must be able to demonstrate that they can provide sufficient funds to meet North Carolina's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Requirements in the event of an at-fault accident.

If a driver is unable to meet these requirements, their driving privileges may be suspended. Victims can file a claim with either their own insurance company or the insurance company of the at-fault driver.

For information about auto insurance, see the North Carolina Department of Insurance's Consumer Guide.

Statute of Limitations

North Carolina has a three (3) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a victim fails to file a lawsuit within the three (3) year time period, the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.
Section 1-52

Small Claims Courts

In North Carolina, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $10,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.

For information about filing a small claim, see the North Carolina Court System website.

North Carolina Government Tort Claims - Sovereign Immunity

In North Carolina, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim is reviewed by the Industrial Commission.

The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties. If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
Section 143-291
Section 143-299
Section 143-299.2

Example

If Melissa, an engineer with the Charlotte Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Charlotte would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Charlotte can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

North Carolina places a cap on the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed against a government agency or its employees to $1.0 million dollars.

A government tort claim must be filed against the governmental agency responsible for the car accident within three years after the accident.
Section 143-291
Section 143-299
Section 143-299.2 NCSL

Sources

State Government of North Carolina

North Carolina Department of Transportation

North Carolina General Assembly

North Carolina Department of Public Safety

Governors Highway Safety Association

North Carolina Bar Association

National Conference on State Legislature

Print Friendly and PDF

How Much Is Your Claim Worth?

Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney...

> > North Carolina

How Much Are Your
Injuries Worth?

Find out with a
free attorney review:

TYPE OF ACCIDENT
AUTO ACCIDENT
PERSONAL INJURY
WORKERS COMPENSATION
MEDICAL ERROR
YES! I WANT FAIR COMPENSATION