A recent event has prompted me to revisit this subject. Fortunately, all involved were not seriously hurt but so easily could have been. Therefore, I believe it is important to address why this type of MVC occurs frequently and to seemingly “experienced” national drivers, the “old Africa hands” and newcomers alike?
Generally, 4wd rollovers are the consequence of not following correct defensive driving techniques that prevent potential hazards accumulating to a state where an MVC is inevitable.
To drive defensively is to avoid being involved in an MVC regardless of the actions of other drivers and /or road users and adverse driving conditions.
The foundation of defensive driving is hazard awareness; a hazard is anything that contains an element of potential or actual danger. Common sense dictates that we should always recognize the hazard in its potential state and thereby alter the way we drive accordingly. By being prepared, should the potential hazard become an actual hazard, we can avoid rather than evade.
Identifying Hazards Timely
Hazards can be grouped into six main sections:
Unsealed roads in themselves have a myriad of hazards to recognize and respond to. Correctly identifying them and knowing the correct defence and application is essential.
Here are a few quick examples and is not a comprehensive list by any means:
Mechanical condition, suspension condition, tyre condition (pressure, tread depth) and vehicle load /distribution all need to be correct. Ignoring these can be the first in a long list of accumulative errors.
Vehicle familiarisation is another factor as differing models of 4×4 have different centre of gravity and weight transfer /dynamics. Understanding how and when to operate the 4wd system will lead to improved stability and handling. Be pro-active and engage H4 /Lock the centre differential on an unsealed road. If you don’t, you become reactive to a critical situation. As a mate of mine once said “It’s too late to engage 4wd when the vehicle’s on its roof!”
You have at least 50% less grip than on a sealed road and it will take you twice as long to stop in an emergency; good reasons for keeping your speed down.
Recognising changes in road type, condition and surface well ahead and adjusting our driving accordingly is another preventative step.
A good example of a commonly under-estimated road hazard is negative camber, which may occur on a straight road or corner.
Oncoming traffic is another contributor or I should say the failure to recognize it until it’s too late. Don’t play chicken; large fast movers like trucks and buses will not get out of the way and you may be forced to move onto that dangerous shoulder with too sudden an input of steering and with too fast a speed. Oops!
Other road users like cyclists, pedestrians and livestock have there own particular problem – unpredictability. Therefore, when approaching them, slow down and expecting the unexpected. People who live in the rural parts of the country may have less “road sense” than urbanites.
Also, cows do not understand what the horn means! Slow down. Even if they just seem to be grazing on the side of the road. They are not the brightest of beasts and tend to wander at will.
Rain distorts and reduces our visibility and makes the road wet. Again, good reasons too slow down.
Dust clouds also reduce visibility and if you own a Land Rover it tends to fill up with the stuff as well! Makes sense then to avoid travelling in dust clouds thrown up by a fast moving vehicle in front. A following distance of 20 seconds will ensure this and keep you out of distance of flying stones. Turning headlights on will makes it easier for oncoming traffic to see you.
Dusk and dawn are vulnerable times of day to travel, at the best of times, due to falling contrast and edge of objects becoming indistinct. A vehicle can blend in with the background very easily and so to stand out, yes you got it, put the headlights on.
Sunset is a time when light may be blinding. Obviously if you cannot see then you should not be driving! But then we should never assume that everyone is following this rule. As an old mentor of mine said “never assume, check” –who put the ass in assumption?
Never drive on an unsealed road for the first time at night. Your headlights will not correctly show up the specific road hazards. Ensure that headlights are clean and working and glasses and mirrors are clean. Drive within your headlight beam. Expect other vehicles to be travelling around with no lights (quite common up country).
See and be seen; when visibility is reduced put your headlights on. Contrary to mythology, they do not cause you to use more fuel or make the battery go flat while driving!
Specifically, identifying our own limitations and skill level. What are our strengths and weaknesses? Are we aware of the specific hazards? What causes us to become distracted and thereby miss that important indicator that the situation is about to deteriorate? Understanding these can help us work at eliminating them from our driving.
Many drivers suffer from an illusion of control, a tendency to overestimate their ability to cope with the demands of the traffic and environmental conditions. This, compounded with an “it won’t happen to me” attitude, undermines their accurate perception of risk and is a major factor in over 1,000,000 deaths occurring annually on roads worldwide.
So, don’t become a statistic. As in the above, the ability to identify, know the defence required and act appropriately, will help you to avoid.