Driving on different terrain
Posted by: Cal on 19/11/2013
Whether you're a novice driver or a seasoned pro, sometimes you will encounter a new type of terrain or condition that makes you question your abilities. Loose gravel, sand and rain can all make driving more difficult, but there are ways you can protect yourself and others on the road.
Gravel roads vary from smooth, hard surfaces of compacted rock particles to bumpy country roads where the gravel is not fixed in place.
If you encounter a gravel road on your travels this summer, the first thing to do is reduce and control your speed. Moving too quickly and performing sharp turns or braking on gravel roads can be extremely dangerous, so keep a level head and a controlled car.
Slowing down will make turning corners safer and reduce your braking distance, plus you'll be able to assess how well your car handles the new terrain more easily than if you speed up.
If there are existing tyre tracks on the gravel road, travel in those to optimise stability. Gravel roads can increase your likelihood of skidding as you will have less traction and therefore less control on the loose surface.
If you know you'll be travelling on gravel roads a lot, make sure your tyres have a large chunky tread to make gripping the road easier.
If your all-terrain vehicle is equipped with 4wd tyres and you're keen to hit the beach this summer, make sure you put safety first.
On soft sand, engage your locking hubs and select low gears. Avoid any sharp turns or sudden braking and consider lowering your tyre pressure to maintain traction. Just remember to reinflate your tyres once returning to harder ground.
Remember that beaches have speed limits too, so always adhere to these. Other road rules such as indicating and wearing seatbelts also apply, and it goes without saying you should consider others on the beach at all times.
Only travel within two hours either side of low tide to avoid getting swept away by the ocean. Travel on the hard sand between the water line and high tide mark and avoid heading into the water. Keep an eye out for rocks and make sure your vehicle is never overloaded, as this can cause it to become stuck in the sand.
While the Australian summer is often hot and dry, many places do get hit by storms and large bouts of rain. If a heavy downpour does hit unexpectedly while you're driving, the first response is to simply to slow down. Wet weather increases your braking and stopping time so it's especially important to maintain a following distance of three seconds or more in order to avoid accidents.
Turn your headlights on so that you can see and be seen by other cars on the road. Avoid off-road driving as it can be hard to judge the depth of puddles. In flood conditions, never drive through moving water if you can't see the road as your car could end up getting swept away. Deep water can also damage your car's electrical system, so it is best avoided.
In heavy thunderstorms or torrential rain, stay off the road where possible. Lightning can temporarily blind and disorientate drivers and torrential rain dramatically impairs visibility. Simply find a safe place to pull over and wait until the conditions have passed.
It's a good idea to ensure your windscreen wipers are up to scratch at all times so remember to replace old or brittle wipers with new blades. Tyres should also be maintained to ensure they have the appropriate pressure and tread to handle these conditions.