Gravel roads are a fact of life for Manitobans. Whether you belong to the farming community, or whether you are a weekend commuter to the lake, at some point we all face the special challenges presented by gravel roads.
The major concern with driving on gravel roads is traction. Driving on any gravel surface, loose or hard-packed, is trickier than driving on paved roads because tires do not have the traction needed to maintain stable control of your vehicle. When speed is added to the mix, you have a formula for trouble.
Construction materials, weather, traffic volumes, and varying vehicle weights also change a gravel road’s conditions very quickly and can spell disaster for an unprepared driver. Novice drivers, for example, who have not gained the driving experience and who are already higher risk road users, are particularly vulnerable when it comes to driving on gravel roads. On average 16.5 per cent of all fatal crashes occur on gravel roads, resulting in 17 deaths each year.
Many drivers encounter problems when they move from a paved surface to a gravel road. Your vehicle is going to handle differently when it moves from one surface to another, so it is important to slow down. The gravel may be loose or hard-packed, and you want to adjust to the new road conditions before regaining speed.
A vehicle can be difficult to handle on a gravel road and skidding might occur, especially if you have suddenly changed your speed or direction. You can remove the cause of the skid by releasing your accelerator or brakes. As you release, look where you want to go and steer the vehicle in that direction.
Rollovers are much more likely to occur on gravel roads than on paved surfaces. They usually occur when the vehicle drifts to one side of the road and traction on one side of the vehicle is reduced. The natural reaction is to try to get back on track by quickly turning the steering wheel and slamming on the brakes. This can send the vehicle into a sideways skid, where it may tip and rollover before coming to a stop.
A sudden change in direction, such as swerving to avoid an object or animal on the road, may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Stopping or speeding up too quickly is another concern when driving on gravel roads. By accelerating and braking slowly, you maintain better control of your vehicle and reduce the risk of having a collision. Although the maximum posted speed limit on gravel roads is 90 km/h, be sure to drive to conditions and reduce your speed when approaching blind intersections, hills or objects that obstruct your view.
Even if the visibility is good and the road is hard-packed, stay at least six seconds behind other vehicles. Increase this distance when conditions are not ideal, to reduce the danger from a cloud of dust obscuring your vision or flying rocks damaging your headlights and windshield.
If you’re the only one on the gravel road, drive in the existing tire tracks. Even if the tracks are in the middle of the road, it is safer to drive in the tracks than to be too close to a deep ditch or a soft shoulder. If you approach an oncoming vehicle, reduce your speed, move to the right, and pass with caution.
Wildlife or stray farm animals could be grazing in the ditch along a road. As you drive, scan the ditch so you can safely avoid animals. Be especially cautious in areas with a lot of bush near the road that could hide deer or farm animals.
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