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Private Driveways or Roads: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the meaning of private road?

A.

Often marked with the help of private driveway or private road signs, a private road or drive or street or driveway is one that is not open for general public use. Private roads are defined as as, “ A road or driveway on privately owned property, limited to the use of the owner or a group of owners who share the use and maintain the road without help from the town, city, county, or state.” However, such roads can be used upon the owner’s permission, and certain private roads may be open for public use, such as those in shopping malls, sports facilities, etc.

Q. What is the difference between private road and easement?

A.

While private road implies the road is not available for use by the public but is open for individuals with the owner’s permission, an easement is a legal right of way that allows for the use of certain roads owned by others. Public easement is termed as “The right of the general public to use certain streets, highways, paths, or airspace, even though the areas are owned by others.” 

You may find more useful information about easements here.

Q. Do the MUTCD provisions apply to private roads?

A.

The MUTCD provisions are intended to provide road users with information through consistent and uniform messages irrespective of where they are travelling. These do apply to private roads that are open to public travel, provided state rules exist that mandate the use of MUTCD-compliant traffic control devices on private roadways open to the public. This FHWA page provides more clarity on this. 

However, since the same traffic control standards apply to private roads open to public travel that apply to public streets and highways, owners of such private roads are encouraged to MUTCD-compliant and other state law-compliant traffic control devices to prevent potential tort liability, as stated on DOT Site.

Q. Do traffic laws apply to private roads?

A.
Generally speaking, no. Traffic rules do not apply to private roads in most cases unless there’s a serious traffic violation such as negligent or reckless driving and driving under the influence. However, state rules and local ordinances may vary, and it is always advisable to obey traffic rules to ensure your safety and the safety of all road users.

Q. Can private road owners be prosecuted for not complying with MUTCD?

A.

Though it is not mandatory, complying with MUTCD is highly recommended for several reasons. Non-compliance increases the risk of attracting a tort liability in the event of an injury or death on your property. The use of MUTCD-compliant traffic control devices helps create a safer environment, promote a positive perception of the property owner, and minimize insurance costs. 

Please refer to this resource for more details. 

Q. Can someone be charged with trespassing on a private road?

A.

Trespassing implies entering or being on other’s property without permission. Since private roads imply private ownership, anyone who uses a private road without the owner’s consent can be charged with trespassing. Private roads/drives are usually identified by visual devices such as signs that may also communicate a no-trespassing warning.

Q. Is there a difference between private driveway and private road?

A.

Often used interchangeably, the underlying distinction between private driveways and private drives/roads is usually based on ownership and access. While driveways are paths branching out from a public or private road to a single lot/structure, accessible by the occupants, private roads or drives usually serve multiple lots/structures. Local zoning ordinances may vary in their definition and classification of private driveways and private roads. Please check those applicable to your area.

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