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With skyrocketing gas prices and crowded mass transit options, many of us are left wondering why we’re still stuck in a bumper-to-bumper commute. And while most of us resist being ‘that guy’–you know, the one who goes flying up the shoulder while you’re waiting (im)patiently in your lane–we still wish there was a better way to get from Point A to Point B.

What if you weren’t constrained by the lines of road? For many Americans, that’s no longer a dream but a reality. No, we haven’t invented the hover car…yet. Instead, I’m talking about the increasingly popular hobby of off-roading. I know people involved in the “sport” and it sounds like a lot of fun. But it can also be a very risky activity. As fellow IB attorney Chuck Boyk recently wrote, off-roading can give rise to serious personal injury claims. He specifically discussed the danger that ATVs pose, both in design and negligent operation. With increased use, accidents are also on the rise. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, ATV accidents resulting in death rose from 29 in 1982 to 470 in 2004.

But it’s not just ATVs riding in the field and on the dunes; many other vehicles, notably Jeeps, are often favored. Those of you living in and around Chicago might be asking, “Where exactly is this going on?” The answer: all around you. Not in the city, of course, but definitely in the sprawling countryside that makes up much of Illinois and most of neighboring Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. In fact, the sand dunes around Michigan are one of the favorite hotspots for riders.

And for those of you who think it’s just a few kids out joyriding, check out the many off-roading societies in and around Illinois. Some of these sites are just for exchanging information or planning trips, but others provide useful safety information. Some clubs, like Iron Horse, 4X4s, Inc. even developed a Safety Committee that performs safety checks on member vehicles at each club run or event. Its website also provides information to conduct your own safety check: a road travel checklist.

To further ensure safety measures are followed, the Two Rivers Jeep Club in Pittsfield, Illinios implemented the United Four Wheel Drive Association’s Awareness Course as a required course for all board members and trail guides and helpers. The Northern Illinois Jeep Alliance also provides helpful information, including tips for staying safe once you’re on the trail:

· Know the limits of your vehicle.

· Tie your gear down. In the event of a roll-over your gear could become deadly missiles.

· Air down your tires. Airing down your tires makes for a softer ride and gives your vehicle more traction. You might start out at 15 psi, in deep sand I’ll go as low as 8 psi. Whatever tire pressure you are running at, remember to check your tire pressure from time to time. As your tire gets warmer the air pressure in your tire will increase. While you are airing down, this is a good time to do a final inspection of your vehicle.

· Another trick to help out the suspension on your vehicle, is to disconnect your sway bar. This allows for better wheel travel.

· Now that you have everything tied down, your vehicle is ready to go, it’s time for you and your passengers to climb aboard and strap in. Use your seat belts. Remember your roll bar or cage will not protect you if you are not in the vehicle.

No matter what vehicle you use or what route you follow, educate yourself before hitting the trails. Off-roading may allow you to roll pass traffic jams, but it doesn’t sidestep safety hazards.

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