Having rolled a vehicle back in my early days working upcountry in Uganda, I learnt the hard way about the dangers of unsealed roads. Since then, I’ve treated this very dangerous road surface with the utmost respect.
Cause of the Rollover
There were various contributing factors to the rollover and all were down to driver error. At the time I was blaming everything else except myself!! Before I go into the details of the rollover let me go back a bit.
I came out to Uganda to work with an NGO taking food relief into Southern Sudan. I was based in the North Western tip of Uganda in a small town called Koboko, bordering the Sudan and then Zaire. The only time I had driven a 4wd vehicle before this was when I was in the Air Force and that was just driving a Land Rover around an Airfield on good tarmac tracks.
So, there I was in a place where the roads were poor to say the least and driving a vehicle, which weighed at least 2.5 tonnes more than my Mini back home. Also, it was a lot higher than my Mini! So, obviously then, I shouldn’t drive it the same. So why did I try? The crux of the matter was that I was ignorant of the capabilities and the pitfalls of driving a large 4wd vehicle. Plus the fact, that I thought I was a far better driver than what I was. Why is it that it sometimes takes a near to death experience to prove this otherwise!
So, I had been driving the 60 series Toyota Land Cruiser around for about 6-9 months and had driven down to Kampala several times. Some organisations would give me their vehicles to drive them from Kampala up to the field for them such was my reputation for good driving. Looking back on it I was extremely lucky!
I was definitely over confidant in my abilities of controlling the vehicle and it was this poor attitude that led to the rollover.
Review of the 4wd Rollover
Let us then take a look at what happened. I was called down to Kampala for a meeting that was to take place on the Monday. I decided that I would drive down, as there was always goods to bring back up to the field. I planned to leave early Sunday morning in time to catch the security convoy operating at that time from Pachwach to Karuma. This meant a 6 a.m. departure.
I was invited to a party on the Saturday night being held by one of the other organisations. I went with all good intentions of leaving early and relatively sober! Who was I kidding – and I didn’t leave the party until about 01.30. Mistake number one.
My alarm woke me at 5.30 am. but I didn’t manage to get out to the vehicle until 6.30. Feeling slightly worse for wear, I decided to make the journey despite my passenger thinking otherwise. He still came along though! Mistake number two.
The morning was overcast and a light drizzle was falling. The light was poor and the roads were a tad wet. I was now rushing as I knew that I had to make Pachwach by 9.30 am to catch the convoy. It was normally a good 3-hour trip on a dry road. Mistake number three.
We made it to Arua in good time and were on our way to Nebbi. Now, we had been discussing a particular corner on this road not so long ago. It was a particularly nasty negative camber corner and had caught a few out before me, so I should have known better.
I knew the dangers of travelling on this particular part of the road but was not driving to the conditions. I was travelling at about 70 Kph when I hit the corner far too fast for the wet road conditions, let alone a negative camber corner. Mistake number four.
Loosing control, the off-side wheels went into the ditch and over we went. I suppose we must have slid around about 50 metres on the roof! Our only saving grace was that we had both got our seat belts on. My passenger was unhurt and I had a slight cut on the nose. Very lucky indeed.
We managed to get the vehicle back on its wheels and drive it back to Arua (says a lot about the strength of a Toyota Land Cruiser). Albeit that I had to bend down to see through the small gap that used to be the windscreen.
Summary of Prevention
Since those days I have learnt a lot more about how to drive and handle a 4wd and here is part of what we teach as a rollover prevention technique.
- Drive To The Road Conditions.
Be in the correct place on the road, have the right speed for the conditions and the correct gear for that speed. (Consider 4H for driving on unsealed roads. It gives you far more control over the vehicle especially on corners. But remember to deselect before going back onto a tarmac road.)
- Avoid Any Sudden Changes In Steering.
Making sudden changes in steering can cause your vehicle to go into a skid on an unsealed road.
- Expect The Unexpected.
Be prepared for any eventuality. And have a “what if” plan made for each.
- Be Alert and Focused.
You should be able to remain calm and focused at all times when in charge of a motor vehicle. If you can’t, you should stop and rest.
Remember, when driving on unsealed roads, even if the road is good and dry it still has an unstable road surface. Just look in your rear view mirror and see the road surface coming up behind you as a dust cloud.
Also realise that you have 50% less grip with the road surface as you would on a tarmac road. Therefore, you are twice as likely to loose control of your vehicle and it will take you double the distance to stop in an emergency. It makes sense then to keep our speed down. Down below the 80 KPH mark whatever the conditions.