Dirt road dangers

You may be an ace on bitumen, but that doesn’t mean to say you’re safe on a dirt road.

DIRT ROADS are dangerous for all sorts of reasons, but there’s one I want focus on. It’s not the lack of traction, or the potential for the road to change character, or the dust, or the potholes. It’s the corners, and the title shot shows you what happens when you get it wrong.

Now here’s how to get it right, so you don’t crash and hurt yourself, or even worse, well-meaning members of the offroad aristocracy going peaceably about their lawful business. The first rule of dirt-road corners is to brake early, as dirt roads have less traction than bitumen, and that traction varies from mentre to metre.

Think of it this way – the earlier you brake, the earlier you can accelerate out of the corner, and if trouble arises you can always acclerate less… but braking harder than you planned is a bit more difficult. Another tip is not to accelerate until you are unwinding the steering lock which helps stop the back overtaking the front, and put part-time 4WDs into 4WD for extra traction and braking stability.

Would you believe that left-hand corners require a different technique to right-handers? Sounds odd, but the rules change on dirt roads. Going tight into the left-hand corner doesn’t allow you to see around the bend, so the best option is to stay away from the inside, but always, always leave comfortably enough room on the outside of the bend for another car to pass comfortably. You need to be able to stop quickly, and see around the corner. Here is a short list of things I’ve found on the apex of left-hand dirt road corners; a dead kangaroo, a broken down car, a large rock, a cyclist and a jerrycan. And an oncoming vehicle, which brings us to right-hand bends.

Right-hand bends are more difficult than left handers. You need to be as far out to the left as possible so as to give the maximum possible space for oncoming vehicles, and so you can see around the bend as you’re sitting on the wrong side of the vehicle for round-corner visibility. However, the problem with going out wide is traction. On the outside of the bend is where you’ll find the loosest dirt which means the least traction… and there’s also no more road should the vehicle slide. That means you need to slow right down, and keep your eyes on a swivel.

If you don’t follow this advice then sooner or later you will crash. And it will happen fast. The owner of the Patrol in the pictures was asked by the other driver: “what’s wrong with you, why were you going so fast” when in fact the Patrol driver was doing less than 50km/h.

And, as he says, “Be prepared, for every blind corner is a potential idiot driving on your side of the road, either it being city tourists, a four wheeler, and God forbid, a logging truck.” If you take nothing else from this article, remember this – leave plenty of room on dirt road corners.

crashed car on dirt road
A typical dirt road corner. Look at the loose gravel on the left (outside) of the bend. Notice how it’s blind, and also notice how on the left side it is off cambered (slopes to the left). You can also see on the right the skidmarks from the Patrol when it braked.
dirt road crashed car
Not going anywhere. Help can be a long way away on a dirt road.
skidmarks dirt road
You can see here the skidmarks from the Patrol which start on its side of the road, and end in a desperate attempt to get out of the way of the oncoming car..but there’s no more road to use.

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Adzee Aus
Adzee Aus
7 years ago

See near misses a bit. Not a great sight to have a motorcycle coming round on your side!

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper