Road Manners and Driving Tips
By Valarie Tom and Bill Donovan
The Reservation roads can be dangerous. Only a fifth of the roads on the reservation are paved. Only a tiny fraction are even covered with gravel. The rest are just dirt. There are also too few roads! By comparison to West Virginia, a state of comparable size to the Navjo Reservation, the Navajo Reservation has only half the number of roads. Tribal officials have been trying to tell Congress and others for years the disparity between Navajo roads and states of comparable size.
According to official health statistics, death from unintentional injury, including automobile accidents and pedestrian deaths, account for about 19% of all deaths. The most recent statistics available state that 289 people died as a result of motor vehicle accidents in one year, and pedestrian deaths accounted for 116 deaths.
Just know also that you are off the grid, cell phone service is not always available. Due to too few roads, there is often heavy traffic on major routes. Many people drive long distances each day for work, and with people rushing to work or to the nearest grocery stores, and animals grazing on or along the roadway, it is dangerous.
Bottom line: Don’t drive fast and keep an eye out for animals. Plan your trips to drive as little after dark as possible – it’s more difficult to see hazards and damaged roads, and there are many driving who are intoxicated and driving on the roads, very fast or erratically.
Also, pull over from the road far enough when taking pictures or talking on the phone. Drivers often exit their cars to take a picture in a rush and leave their car doors open.
Watch your speeding. There is a lot of livestock. Most of the roads on the Navajo Reservations are open range areas, and livestock get on the roads. You’ll even see animals on the road in townsites. Watch your speed, as there may be a herd of sheep around the next corner!
Use the restroom and fill up with gasoline when you can because there can be a lot of road construction and many times no notices are provided. Crews can even be working in the dark with little light or few signs to issue a warning.
Understand the meaning of the double yellow lines down the center of the road. These are no passing zones! There are many no passing zones due to hills and upcoming curves. Don’t risk it.
Tourists can get anxious when they aren’t familiar with their route or the local area – they may do unusual things with no notice, such as trying to turn around, going the wrong way, or simply pulling out and taking chances. Oncoming drivers may take risks when they become impatient following slow moving vehicles or long lines of traffic. Tourists sometimes take big risks or make turns on the spur of the moment due to their unfamiliarity with the location. Slow moving vehicles can also turn on to the road ahead of you unexpectedly.
Be aware of your location and slow down when approaching popular tourist destinations or when passing through commercial zones with slower speed limits.
Make your visit to the Navajo Nation a memorable one, not a tragic one. Try to slow down and enjoy the scenery and a slower pace of life.