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The side of the road may seem like an intriguing place to metal detect, as it could be riddled with treasures that have fallen out of people’s cars or pockets as they make their journey. However, you should be aware of some legal and safety aspects of this practice.
You can metal detect on the side of the road as long as it’s not on private or protected land, and you take the necessary safety precautions to avoid causing an accident or getting hurt yourself. You should never metal detect on the side of a highway.
In the rest of this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about metal detecting on the side of the road, including legal restrictions and safety tips. Let’s get to it!
Metal Detecting on the Side of the Road: Legal Considerations, Tips, and More
Metal detecting on the side of the road is legal as long as you don’t do it on private or protected land and if you don’t do it along a highway. If you want to metal detect on the side of the road, you should always be cautious and prioritize safety.
Roads are intriguing places for metal detecting because they almost always experience at least some human traffic, which means there’s ample opportunity to find objects that have fallen from cars or pockets throughout the years. However, knowing what is and isn’t allowed regarding side-of-the-road detection can be difficult.
The good news is, in many cases, there are no laws prohibiting walking along the side of the road metal detecting. One key exception to this is highways. You should never attempt to metal detect alongside a highway or interstate.
The interstate highway system is classified as a network of “access-controlled” roads in the United States. This classification means that there are restrictions to who can access the roads, namely pedestrians in this case, as well as slow-moving vehicles and bikes. On most interstate highway entrance ramps, you’ll see a sign prohibiting pedestrians, bicycles, and motor-driven cycles. In some areas, these signs might also mention horses and mopeds.
This restriction may seem like a drag, but it is for the safety of everyone that pedestrians aren’t allowed to walk alongside or cross highways.
Highway conditions are unsafe for pedestrians. Usually, the minimum speed is approximately 40 miles per hour (64 kph), and many vehicles aren’t expecting to encounter pedestrians and are, therefore, less likely to respond with the quickness necessary should they need to swerve to avoid hitting you.
Vehicles drive at a fast speed on highways. The minimum speed limit is 40 mph (64 kph), but the average is approximately 70 mph (113 kph). This high speed simply doesn’t give drivers enough time to slow down or stop should you venture out too far on the highway and get in their way while metal detecting.
Walking alongside a highway is especially dangerous at night. Visibility is not as good in the dark, especially because highways don’t usually have a lot of roadside lighting.
For your safety and the safety of those driving, you should never attempt to metal detect on the side of a highway. It is acceptable to metal detect on other roads, though.
If the road is on public land with no restrictions regarding trespassing or metal detecting, then you can metal detect there. Generally, there are restrictions around historically sensitive areas (such as Indian burial grounds or archaeological sites), so if the road goes through one of those areas, you shouldn’t metal detect near it.
These restrictions are based on the American Antiquities Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. If you are unsure about whether you can metal detect on certain land or near a specific road, I recommend consulting these acts and contacting your local officials for guidance.
Metal detecting is also prohibited in the following areas:
- National Parks
- National Monuments
- National Sea Shore Beaches
- Native American lands
- Civil War Battlefields
- Revolutionary War Battlefields
- Some state parks
- Some city parks
Failure to abide by these laws can result in possible prison time and up to $10,000 in fines. Because of the potential consequences, I recommend avoiding metal detecting there if you aren’t sure if a road is on prohibited land.
I also don’t recommend metal detecting in nearby cemeteries near any roads that go through a cemetery. For more information, check out my article on metal detecting in graveyards: Can You Metal Detect in Graveyards?
Safety Tips for Roadside Metal Detecting
It might be legal to metal detect on the side of some roads, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best or safest idea. Pedestrian fatalities are rising; in 2020, 6,516 pedestrians were killed, and approximately 55,000 were injured. You’re putting yourself at risk if you spend extended time near the side of the road, especially if you’re distracted by your metal detector and not paying attention to your surroundings.
You should always prioritize your safety and the safety of those on the road when you’re metal detecting. Here are my top safety recommendations to keep yourself and others safe:
- Pay attention. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt while metal detecting, but if you’re on the side of the road, you should always pay attention to what’s happening around you. You never know what kind of drivers are on the road, and if someone isn’t paying attention for whatever reason, it’ll be your responsibility to get out of the way to avoid injury or death.
- Don’t metal detect in the dark. Visibility goes down with darkness, so drivers won’t be able to see you as well if you’re metal detecting at night. I suggest only doing your roadside metal detecting when you have the full light of day. If you need to go at night for whatever reason, I suggest wearing fluorescent neon colors and a headlamp to make yourself visible to drivers.
- Avoid high-traffic times of the day. It’s safer for you to be on the side of the road when there are fewer cars, so I suggest going out on your adventure during less-trafficked times of day, usually late morning and early afternoon, while people are at work, before and after the lunch break.
- Don’t venture into the road. This should go without saying, but you should stay as far away from the road as possible. You may need to stand on or near the road to dig up a find, and if this is the case, be extra aware of your surroundings and get off the road as soon as possible.
- Go with a buddy. I recommend having someone come with you as you metal detect on the side of the road to keep an eye out for cars and give you a warning if someone is driving too fast or too close to where you are. You might get distracted while you’re detecting, so it’s best to have another set of eyes on the road, so you can focus on your finds, and they can focus on keeping you safe.
- Don’t metal detect in bad weather conditions. Being on the side of the road is risky enough, so you don’t want to push your luck. Cars are less controllable in wet or icy conditions, so if it is raining, snowing, or hailing outside, you should avoid metal detecting on the side of the road. For more information, I recommend reading my article on if metal detecting in the rain is a good idea: Is it a Good Idea to Metal Detect in the Rain?
- Be careful around curves or bends in the road. Some curves or bends in the road are so dramatic that drivers can’t see what’s on the other side, and if they aren’t being cautious, they may clip the side of the road as they make the turn. This is bad news if you’re standing there metal detecting. Therefore, you should only metal detect by the road if you can see the cars coming and they can see you.
Metal detecting is a great hobby. You can find amazing things, but no object is worth more than your safety.
I don’t recommend metal detecting roadside at night, but if you insist, one of the best ways to keep yourself safe is to wear a headlamp like the PETZL ACTIK Headlamp from Amazon.com.
I also suggest wearing fluorescent, reflective clothing to increase your visibility. This JOYYANGFANG V-Neck Reflective Construction Shirt from Amazon is a great choice because it has reflective strips that increase visibility in dark and foggy environments.
You can metal detect on the side of the road as long as it isn’t a highway and it isn’t on protected or historic land. However, there are risks associated with being near the side of the road, so you should always prioritize your safety and be aware of your surroundings.