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Sullivan: What to do and what not to do when driving on the beach in Washington

By meerna Jun11,2024

Driving on the beach is one of those great experiences we have here in Washington, but it seems like a lot of people don’t know the rules.

I learned to drive on the Long Beach Peninsula by first grabbing the wheel while sitting on my dad’s lap before I could even reach the pedals. I started driving at very slow speeds before I even got my permit. Sure, they’re both illegal, but that’s how it was done in the ’70s and ’80s.

One thing this first experience gave me was a great respect for the ocean, the sand, and the caution that must be taken when driving on sand.

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Even at 54 years old, I still love the thrill of driving on sand, but what I see other drivers doing just blows my mind. I’m not sure the general public understands beach rules. On Saturday, I met with Washington State Park (WSP) Ranger David Linthakhan on the sand near Seaview to go over the basics.

“It’s a state highway, so anything you wouldn’t do on any road in the city, you really shouldn’t do here,” Ranger Linthakhan said.

Let’s say it again. The beach is a state highway and the same traffic rules apply.

The speed limit is 25 miles per hour, and the law spells out exactly where you can – and more importantly, where you can’t – drive on the beach.

“Most people don’t know what the actual area is where you can legally drive,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “Which is the highest hard sand that is basically as far east as you can go without going into soft sand.”

When you enter the beach there are specific areas. There are sand dunes. Then soft sand. Then hard, packed sand, wet sand and finally the ocean. You need to drive as far away from the water as possible, avoiding the soft sand. Driving on wet sand is dangerous and harmful to mussels. That’s where they live. Driving on them is bad.

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“A good rule of thumb is that most of the tracks are where you should be,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “I like to tell people if it’s wet and shiny, don’t go there.”

If you’re the only car there, you probably shouldn’t be there.

And I know it’s tempting, but you should keep hot dogs to a minimum.

“Most people, when they get here, realize that they shouldn’t do some of the things they do, like hanging around and catching fish,” Ranger Linthakhan said. “People say, ‘Oh, it’s a beach, I thought it was OK,’ but deep down they probably knew it wasn’t cool.”

But it’s not the donuts that get most drivers in trouble. As on the sidewalk, guard Linthakhan said the biggest problem is speed.

“I mean, most of the time it’s flat and you can see for miles, so it’s easy to go too fast,” he said. “The problem is that tides come and go. It creates ruts and areas that you don’t really know about until you’re in them. That’s when accidents happen.”

When it comes to technique, keep your speed constant. Do not make sudden movements and approach the water carefully. You never know for sure how deep it is.

What about braking?

“Don’t hit the brakes,” said Ranger Linthakhan. “Don’t slam on the brakes unless absolutely necessary. Let me stop. What happens when you hit the brakes causes sand to kick up in front of your tires and then you fight it. If you’re driving a front-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll probably get stuck.

And be extra vigilant when scanning the beach. Dogs and children like to run on the beach and you never know when one of them will jump out from behind a car parked on the sand. Also note this. Try not to park your car in the middle of the road. If there are a lot of footprints in the sand, you should probably park a little closer to the softer sand.

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But even if you park in the wrong place, other drivers still have to safely pass you.

“There is no law against putting your belongings somewhere in this area, but it’s up to the driver to notice that there are people there, and I should give them a wide berth,” said guard Linthakhan.

Driving on the beach is fun. Just approach it wisely and kindly. And please stay away from the clam beds.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints here. You can also follow Chris further X, formerly known as Twitter. Head here to follow the KIRO Newsradio Traffic profile on X.

By meerna

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