As a motorist, you are trained to recognize signs signaling how fast you should go and where you cannot drive.
However, being a pedestrian is much trickier because you can follow different rules than motorists. Also, pedestrians don’t have a much of signs to help them along the way.
So, how are you supposed to know what is off-limits when you are out for a walk? In theory, pedestrians should be able to go anywhere, but it may surprise you that this isn’t the case.
Here are some common rules to follow when walking down private and closed roads:
Where Pedestrians Can Walk:
While pedestrians should stick to sidewalks whenever possible, they should avoid trespassing on private property. Anytime a pedestrian walks on a private road, it is considered trespassing, as private roads are usually for residences only.
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Is It Always Trespassing When Crossing a Private Road?
Anytime you walk on a private road, it is considered trespassing.
Most of the time, private roads are for residences only, even when crossing. This is because these roads either lead to a private driveway or are part of a private residence.
However, owners of these private roads should put up proper signage to alert pedestrians that they may be trespassing on private property.
While sometimes the owner doesn’t mind the occasional pedestrian, they are within their rights to ask you to leave.
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that if you have been verbally warned several times by the property owner, the owner can press trespassing charges.
Most states have relatively low fines for this type of infraction. Most of the time, a trespassing charge will be a small fine of around $250.
However, it all depends on how motivated the owner is to pursue these charges.
If the owner is persistent, you may even be at risk for a short jail stay of up to 30 days. Remember that this depends on how often you trespass and how many warnings you receive.
Should Signs State Specifically that Pedestrians Cannot Enter?
If the property owner wants to ensure that people stay away, they should put up a sign specifically stating that. However, there are not required to.
Based on your state, there are specific guidelines stating how you should protect your private property from trespassers. Most states require that you put up a “private property – no trespassing” sign to properly stop an illegal entrance onto your property.
Most states won’t prosecute or even press trespassing charges on pedestrians if no private property sign is visible. This helps to give the pedestrian the benefit of the doubt.
Suppose the owner cannot prove that the pedestrian was made aware that the property was, in fact, private by displaying a sign.
In that case, it is nearly impossible to prove that the pedestrian was aware that the private road they were walking on was off-limits to walking.
While every state has a different set of rules, most states clearly state that you must hang up proper signage on your property to avoid having people trespass.
So yes, a sign should specifically state which area is off-limits to you on your daily stroll, and you should always follow these signs to avoid further trouble.
How Do You Know If a Road is Private or Public?
The first way to tell if a road is private is to look out for any signs.
Along with “no trespassing” signs, you may also see ones that indicate “private road.”
As mentioned, not everyone is required to put up proper signs. So, where no sign is in sight, how can you tell if a road is private?
You first want to note if there is a street sign. Most of the time, you will find a street sign on the corner of an intersection, but in the case of private roads, there might not even be one.
While the city is in charge of putting up street signs and other proper traffic signage, the private road owner is 100% responsible for putting up signs for private property.
So, if you don’t see a street sign or any other sign indicating that the road is open to the public, it is safe to assume that the road is off-limits to pedestrians.
Lastly, when in doubt, check your maps. Using your phone to navigate maps with Google Maps or Apple Maps is a great way to see if a road is on private property.
While digital maps show private shows, they often will be marked to let you know there is a risk from traveling down those roads.
What If The Private Roads Lead Directly to Another Road?
While you should do your best to avoid trespassing on private property, sometimes there isn’t any other choice. So, if you really have to use a private road to get back on course, can you do so without fear of facing trespassing charges?
One thing to note is that a private road really only means that the road is to be monitored, maintained, and owned by someone who isn’t in the town.
So, the owner cannot prevent you from walking down a private road if that road is the only route to a main road.
However, you should try to avoid walking or running down private roads if possible.
If there is another route that you can take to make it to your destination, you should take that one path before going down a private road.
Another thing to remember is that private roads with easy access are easier to cross down than gated roads.
If the property owner is trying to keep people from gaining access to their private property, they can choose to put a gate at the entrance.
Remember that it isn’t only private citizens who can own and maintain a private road.
Residential communities that are in gated areas are also considered to be private property. This includes the roads that lead up to private driveways that are located behind this gate.
If a private road is behind a gated community, it is highly recommended that you do not cross or enter. This is a surefire way to get slapped with a trespassing fine.
Are Private Road Rules The Same For Cars and Pedestrians?
The rules for private roads are the same for vehicles, bikes, and even pedestrians.
In short, traveling down a private road without permission from the owner, no matter how you choose to do so, is considered trespassing.
However, there is one exception to this rule.
Roads and streets that are maintained privately but are still open to the public do not have restrictions when it comes to who can use them.
These roads are usually found in commercial areas like strip malls and apartment complexes. While certain behaviors are discouraged, like using a private parking lot to turn around, walking or driving down these private roads isn’t against the rules.
But keep in mind that there are some rules that you will still have to follow as a pedestrian.
Private roads and lots located in commercial areas open to the public have other rules like no skateboarding, biking, or loitering.
Since the property is privately maintained, the owner is responsible for any accidents on their property.
If they allow everyone to do whatever they want on their property without restriction, they could open themselves up to legal consequences if someone gets hurt.
If you’re like me, you love to walk and wander.
Getting lost and finding new areas to discover is exciting and helps to rid yourself of the mundane. But every wanderer knows you must pay attention to what is around you.
So, next time you are out on a stroll, pay attention to the sign around you.
More specifically, try your best to avoid roads with signage clearly stating that the road is private and not for public use. This can save you a lot of trouble in the long run!