The phrase "trail etiquette" can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. In this post, for beginners, we are going to talk about being a part of a group and related guidelines for being a good participant. These are just a sample of the basic rules to wheel by.
TRAIL COMMUNICATION IS A SAFETY ISSUE: Trail communication between vehicles is not just a convenience, it is a safety requirement, IMHO. The ability to communicate with others that an obstacle is still blocked or has been cleared, or that a hazard is present, can save a lot of grief. Knowing others are on the trail, such as hikers, horses, or ATVs can be important for the safety of everyone on the trail. Whatever your group uses for communication, be it CB, HAM, GMRS or something else, get it and learn to use it.
YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RIG BEHIND YOU: When traveling the trail or when in a convoy to or from the trail, you are responsible for the vehicle behind you. You should try to keep that vehicle in your rear-view mirrors, as much as reasonable. If they are moving slower than the group and falling behind, you should slow down or stop as needed. The driver in front of you should see that you slowed down or stopped and do the same AS WELL. If everyone is doing their job, nobody will get left very far behind. When you come to a fork or turn in the road, you should wait at the intersection until you know the driver behind you sees the turn. He or she will make sure the same happens for the rig behind them. If someone needs a little privacy, you can't always keep them in view, but you can keep them in radio distance or sit just out of sight and wait for them to rejoin the ride.
GIVE PLENTY OF SPACE BETWEEN RIGS: A little bit of space between rigs is a good thing. Whether the rig in front of you is moving or stopped, you should not run up close behind them. Among other things, a little distance allows you to see the trail more clearly so you may see and choose the better line. When going uphill, staying back may keep you from being hit by rocks that are tossed or rolled down by the vehicle ahead of you. They may, at some point, need extra room to back or deal with obstacles. That will be much more difficult if you are right on their bumper. On really rough spots, simply wait at the bottom or top, as the case may be, until the leading vehicle clears the hill completely. If you cannot SEE them clear the hill/obstacle, call on the radio and ask if they have. Make sure you let others know when you clear a blind obstacle too.
THE UPHILL DRIVER HAS RIGHT OF WAY: The general rule is a rig going up a hill has the right of way over those going down. In many cases, a rig going uphill must maintain momentum in order to clear the obstacle. If stopped mid-hill, they may have to back down and start again. It is "best practice" to simply move over, wait for them to clear the hill, and then proceed. The exception to this rule, like most exceptions, requires a little common sense and some common courtesy. If someone is sliding down a slick or icy hill or is on an obstacle they cannot stop on or back-up on, give them the right of way, regardless of their direction.
DRINKING IS FOR AFTER THE DRIVING IS DONE: Just don't do it. Drinking puts everyone on the trail in danger. Drinking and driving is not just dumb, it is illegal. The laws are the same as when driving in town or on the interstate. Just having an open container in a vehicle is illegal in all states west of the Mississippi River. This does not change because you are in the forest. Off-roading is challenging enough without being drunk or high on the trail.
ONLY FRIENDLY PETS, PLEASE: It is simple. If your dog is a danger to people or other pets, leave Fido at home. I have seen a few people wear out their welcome due to an aggressive pup.
BE KIND TO OTHERS YOU MEET ON THE TRAIL: Share the trail. Move over when you can and give motorcycles, ATVers, and faster-moving folks, the right of way. Move past hikers slowly, don't kick up any more dust than you have to, and be friendly. If you encounter horses, move to the side of the road and turn off your engine. Some horses are quite skittish, so ask the rider how best to proceed if needed. If you have to pass horses, go slow and try to keep the engine as quiet as you can. It really should go without saying, but no revving engines and no horns, please.
MEN TO THE LEFT BECAUSE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT: This is not meant to offend anyone. It is just an easy way to remember the rule. When the group stops in a spot without facilities, this is a good rule of thumb to prevent conflicts in the bushes. Please remember to bury anything left behind at least 6” deep.
EXCEPTIONS: Rules are good things, but sometimes safety dictates an exception. These rules are not set in stone for a reason. An experienced off-roader will know this and adjust as needed. As Captain Jack Sparrow's pirate crew might remind us, "These rules are really more like guidelines, anyway". Knowing the rules is important. Learning when to use a little common sense and adjust them for the situation a sign of real experience. Remember, there is just one unalterable, never changing, rule in off-roading. That is SAFETY FIRST!
Of course, there are always more "rules" one can add. However, this is a good start. In the end, it all boils down to one simple phrase: BE FRIENDLY, BE HELPFUL & BE SAFE.