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What image does a dirt road in the summer present you with? If you get a picture of a young couple walking hand-in-hand with a light breeze kicking the trees, you might be the one who threw dirt in their eyes five seconds later. There are approximately four million unpaved roads in the United States alone and a tiny fraction of Americans live on them. In ways other than substrate, dirt, gravel, green lane (the British equivalent), or other unpaved roads are different from paved roads and a different type of driving etiquette must be used when driving on them. If you are planning on travelling a dirt road in the near future, here are a few guidelines that may keep you from having people throw rocks at that shiny new pickup truck.
Good dirt roads are hard-packed and without large quantities of loose gravel and sand covering the surface, but many of these rural roads are far from well-kept. These roads are usually without speed limit signs, but driving at high speeds can lead to a number of difficulties.
Beware of Private Drives
Don't drive down any drive of someone you do not know or you may find someone waiting for you with a 12-gauge (large shotgun). Also, when turning into these drives, try to stay in the middle to avoid crushing culverts.
Do Not Litter
You pack it in - you pack it out. Things like boards, cardboard boxes, and plastic bags are items commonly seen on roads, but dirt roads are often narrow and swerving to avoid debris is not an option.
Look out for Livestock and Wild Animals
Wild animals such as deer, rabbits and turkeys can spring in the middle of your path with little warning, so it is best to be constantly scanning both sides of the road in anticipation. Livestock animals such as cows, sheep, and deer are often moved from one side of a road to the other without more than a few people on horses or ATVs containing them. It is best to stop your vehicle and wait until they've crossed. If the animals are stationary in the road and not being moved, you should ease your vehicle very slowly towards the animals without honking as cows are often fed from the back of a truck and may think that you are simply the chow wagon.
Look out for Pedestrians
Occasionally, you will witness a person walking the roads, checking their mail, bringing in the trash, or some other mundane activity. People that live on country roads tend to be suspicious and will think you are up to trouble if they see a car that they do not recognise. It is usually best, if they don't seem threatening, to stop, explain what you're doing on his or her road, wish them a good day, and be on your way. Another less obvious way of explaining your presence might be to ask directions even if you already know them. When you start to drive away, drive extremely slowly to avoid throwing dirt and gravel into his or her face.
Ditches can be Dangerous
Ditches are a necessary evil on rural roads. They are not always properly maintained and can overflow and cause washouts. You should try and drive towards the middle of the road where loose gravel has been swept away by traffic and you aren't in any danger of 'missing' the road. These ditches can also prove to be quite bothersome when your car ends up in one. When this happens and you can't get in touch with the person you are going to see, walk to a house that you can see from the road and politely explain your problem and either ask if they can help you or if you can use their telephone.
Other Vehicles also Drive these Roads
If you encounter a person coming toward you on an unpaved road, pull as far off the road as you can without falling in a ditch and either stop or continue and crawl. When there is a vehicle in front of you, it is advisable to keep a good distance away to avoid having rocks thrown onto your windshield or dust choking out your air conditioning.
Wet Roads (Paved and Unpaved) are Major Causes of Accidents
Hydroplaning is a danger on any wet road, so take it slowly. Sand on the surface of the road can leave you skidding into ditches and mailboxes. Driving slowly also prevents ruts forming and causing problems later. Wet dirt roads can also wash out, resulting in a fast-running flood that hides the road or an unstable surface. You really shouldn't drive where you can't see the road or it looks unsafe, but sometimes you are left with little or no choice so proceed with great caution.
ATVs can Destroy a Road Surface
All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) such as four-wheelers, dirt bikes, and mud tyres can render a road impassable. Especially irritated inhabitants can go to the local courthouse and get an order to prohibit these vehicles from ruining their road. If you must cross an unpaved road in an ATV, avoid travelling at high speeds and spinning 'doughnuts'. These few simple rules of etiquette can make your experience roaming dirt roads a much more pleasant experience to both you and its residents. Watching out for animals, pedestrians, and other cars will help you protect yourself, your family, and whoever and whatever may happen to be in the road. Unpaved roads are different from paved roads and require different rules, and remember, you are not from the Dukes of Hazzard!