That should get everyone’s attention! What I am actually referring to is the overuse of the term “off road” as opposed to “off highway,” “off pavement,” or “4-wheeling.” For as long as I can remember, the recreational sport of 4-wheeling has been called “off-roading,” as in “Hey, y’all, let’s load up the Jeep and spend the weekend offroading!” Somewhere along the way, the legal definition of “OFF road” came to mean when you are NOT on an established public thoroughfare.
As a group, those of us who engage in the use of unpaved roads and trails for recreation need to update our vocabulary to more legally accurate terms, and here is why: I frequently experience incidents where a mere misunderstanding of each party’s definitions have caused unnecessary conflict and confusion.
For example, when a local Forest Service district announced they were considering eliminating all off-road use, the local Jeep club came unglued, until the fine print was reviewed, revealing that what was actually proposed was the elimination of allowing people to drive off of the established trails onto virgin terrain–our favorite 4-wheeling trails were not actually in peril (that time).
Another common confusion I encounter is in the Jeep rental business. We frequently have guests tell us “I’m not sure if my insurance covers me off road,” to which we reply “That’s fine since you aren’t actually going off road today.” Then we explain it: The legal definition of “off road” by land management agencies and insurance companies is “off of an established public thoroughfare.” When a ranger or insurance adjuster says “off road”, what they mean is “were you on a named and/or numbered, identifiably established trail?” Even trails like Smasher Canyon and Broken Arrow are officially-recognized public thoroughfares–legally, you are “ON road”.
Therefore, I have been trying to catch myself whenever I say “off-road” and changing it to “4-wheeling,” “off-highway,” “trail riding” or ” rock crawling.” I should also mention that the term “trail” in Forest Service-ese means hiking, so mindful of that, too. Sheesh!
Bottom line: stay off of the topsoil, ask about the local rules, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.