The state of Nevada encompasses more than 70 million acres. As anyone who has driven through Nevada knows, much of the state is wide open and empty. A good deal of this these areas are known as “open range”. The state of Nevada defines “open range” as follows:
N.R.S. 568.355 “Open range” defined. As used in N.R.S. 568.360 and 568.370, unless the context otherwise requires, “open range” means all unenclosed land outside of cities and towns upon which cattle, sheep or other domestic animals by custom, license, lease or permit are grazed or permitted to roam.
As the official definition indicates, open range has no fences bordering the roadway. Cattle and other animals are free to wander where they will. If this sounds dangerous, it is! The Nevada Department of Transportation indicates that between 1998 and 2002, there were more than 200 accidents each year on Nevada roads because of cattle in the roadway. Sometime there is a sign indicating you are in an open range area, but not always.
Night driving in the open range areas of Nevada can be an extra challenge, since, besides the reduced visibility, cattle often head to the roads at night to soak up the heat retained by the asphalt.
It may come as a surprise to drivers in Nevada that if you do happen to hit a cow or other domestic animal on open range, it may be your fault and you may be held financially responsible for the injury or death of the animal. As stated in N.R.S. 568.360, the owner of a domestic animal running on an open range has no duty to keep the animal off the highway! They only have a duty if they negligently allow an animal to enter a fenced right of way.
N.R.S. 568.360 Duties of owners of domestic animals with respect to domestic animals upon highway.
1. No person, firm or corporation owning, controlling or in possession of any domestic animal running on open range has the duty to keep the animal off any highway traversing or located on the open range, and no such person, firm or corporation is liable for damages to any property or for injury to any person caused by any collision between a motor vehicle and the animal occurring on such a highway.
2. Any person, firm or corporation negligently allowing a domestic animal to enter within a fenced right-of-way of a highway is liable for damages caused by a collision between a motor vehicle and the animal occurring on the highway.
There have been discussions about changing the open range laws, with one argument being that they are antiquated and out of date, considering that the laws date from the 1800s, and were never meant for today’s fast-moving vehicles. However, until the legislature addresses this concern, the prudent driver in Nevada will stay extra vigilant while driving on the state’s roadways.