Gravel roads are a fact of life for all Manitobans. Whether you belong to the farming community, or whether you are a weekend commuter to the lake, everyone is faced with 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.
Gravel Road Hazards
- 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 speeding up.
- A sudden change in direction, such as swerving to avoid an object or animal on the road, may cause you to lose control and end up in a ditch. This is especially dangerous when driving on loose gravel at excessive speeds.
- 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 an accident. Important: Reduce your speed when approaching blind intersections, hills or objects that obstruct your view (e.g: bushes, trees, hay bales, etc.).
- Keeping a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you is good practice, especially on gravel roads. Even if the visibility is good and the road is hard-packed, stay at least six seconds behind other vehicles. Increasing this distance when conditions are less than perfect reduces the danger from a cloud of dust obscuring your vision or flying rocks damaging your headlights and windshield.
- Stay in the tracks. 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. Remember: The width of a gravel road varies between four and twelve metres. Ensure there is enough room for both vehicles. It might be necessary to stop altogether and let the other vehicle pass before proceeding.
- 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 to escape a rollover 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 vehicle can be difficult to handle on a gravel road and skidding might occur. This might occur 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.
Apply SIPDE when driving – Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide and Execute.
Constantly Scan the Road Your eyes should be constantly scanning, taking in the entire road. Look ahead as far as you can see. If you're looking 12 seconds ahead of your vehicle and you see any situation or hazard, you should be thinking 12 seconds ahead and slowing down to handle the hazard safely. Remember SIPDE driving. Reduced sight distances require you to make a special effort to look as far ahead as you can possibly see. Look 12 to 15 seconds ahead at all times. As the speed limit increase, increase your scanning distance.
Wildlife or stray farm animals could be grazing in the ditch along a road. As you drive, scan the ditch now and then so you can safely avoid animals. Areas with a lot of bush near the road could hide deer or farm animals. Slow down in these areas and you will be at a safe speed to steer around an animal should it climb to the road.
See 360 Know what is 360 degrees around you. When you look ahead on the road, look up and reference down. Keep your eyes moving. Check your mirrors Know what, if anything is behind you. Watch the ditches, bushes and any approach roads or intersections.
Vehicle Maintenance – Constant driving on gravel roads can cause headlights to become unaligned so have your vehicle checked regularly.