How Do You Define Off-Road?

It’s a simple question to ask, “How do you define off-road?”. The answer seems to be more complicated and gets murkier the more people you ask.

Official Definition of Off-Road

In doing some research on the subject multiple dictionaries cannot agree on a common definition of “off-road”.

Merriam-Webster: of, relating to, done with, or being a vehicle designed especially to operate away from public roads. First known use 1954

Dictionary.com: designed, built, or used for traveling off public roads, especially on unpaved roads, trails, beaches, or rough terrain. On a road or terrain other than a public road. First known use 1960-65 (Info based on Random House Dictionary 2018)

Collins English Dictionary: (of a motor vehicle) designed or built for use away from public roads, especially on rough terrain.

Douglas Harper: First known use 1949.

Multiple sources, multiple definitions and even more interesting multiple first known use dates.

So far we have established that all the sources agree the definition pertains to an activity that occurs off of public roads and each mentions rough terrain.

Pursuant to 23 USCS § 101 (27) [Title 23. Highways; Chapter 1. Federal-Aid Highways], the term public road means “any road or street under the jurisdiction of and maintained by a public authority and open to public travel.”

The inclusion of public road as criteria makes things interesting as it eliminates a great deal of land and access ways from the list of off-road locations. Even dedicated off-road areas, if they are open to the public, maintained by public authority and jurisdiction would not be considered off-road by the above definitions. How many of you would still have truly driven off-road with this as your criteria?

What do we as off-road enthusiasts think is the right definition?

I find it unlikely we will come to a universal answer in this discussion but I believe we will all find some common ground.

The way I define off-road is any terrain that is not on maintained or managed roads. So most dirt roads are out. Fire roads, logging roads, and many of the “roads” in WV certainly count. Dedicated off-road parks regardless of who owns or maintains them. National Parks and recreation areas. Any road designated as 4×4 only or that has a warning sign that it isn’t maintained. Roads that have water crossings instead of bridges definitely count as well.

The mall doesn’t count. Even if you drove in the grass. Crappy paved roads no matter how gnarly the urban terrain do not count. Construction sites and abandoned lots with tons of debris definitely do count.

How do you define off-road? Does it match what we think or are you a strict dictionary definition type of person?

William Connor

As the Editor, William is responsible for all the good, the bad, the ugly and the indifferent that happens at 4WAAM. William brings a wide range of experience to this role having been a cook, a painter, a machinist, part time mechanic, computer programmer, and writer. He also wields a freely shared opinion on just about everything., just ask him.

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