Normally, an emergency lane of a road is the small lane outside of the outer lane. Emergency lanes are usually not that wide. This is why many people refer to those lanes as the shoulder of the road. However, in the state of New Hampshire, actual roads can be designated as emergency lanes if the situation is warranted. So, what should you know about emergency lanes in New Hampshire?
The Difference Between Class V and Class VI Roads
Class V and Class VI roads are both public roads. Therefore, everyone has the right to use those roads to drive along. However, municipalities are only required to maintain Class V roads. Since maintenance is expensive, most municipalities choose to classify a road as a Class VI instead of a Class V, so they do not need to maintain it. We could get into an excellent debate as to whether this is a good policy, but honestly, that is up to each municipality to make a decision on.
Unfortunately, a municipality’s policy to classify more roads as Class VI means that many roads are not maintained throughout the year. Of course, vehicles, including emergency vehicles, must be able to travel along these roads safely throughout the year. That is not easy when the roads have been neglected.
Designating an Emergency Lane
Thankfully, there is a loophole that a municipality can use if a Class VI road is washed out or in a state of disrepair. They can easily designate that road as an emergency lane. Private roads can also receive this designation, so keep that in mind if you frequently travel on a private road.
Now, designating an emergency lane is not as simple as you might think. First, the board of a municipality must call a public hearing. After listening to everyone speak at the public hearing, the board will make a decision as to whether or not they should designate the road in question as an emergency lane. To make their decision, they will request a copy of the minutes of the meeting. This is to ensure they understand fully why it is important to keep this specific road maintained.
Once the board deems a road an emergency lane, the municipality then has the power to make repairs, remove brush, or do any other work that is necessary to keep the road passable.
The designation of an emergency lane is normally temporary. If a situation arises in the future where that same road is once again impassable, then a new public hearing would need to be held. A new emergency lane designation would need to be given on a temporary basis.
This isn’t surprising since New Hampshire law, RSA 231:59-a states, “Utilization of this section shall be at the sole and unfettered discretion of a town and its officials, and no landowner or any other person shall be entitled to damages by virtue of the creation of emergency lanes, or the failure to create them, or the maintenance of them, or the failure to maintain them, and no person shall be deemed to have any right to rely on such maintenance.”.
If you have questions about emergency lanes in New Hampshire, please contact our office today to schedule a consultation.