You and your friends have a thirst for adventure. The Outback is calling your name, and you can't wait to answer that call with an extended road trip. The idea of leaving behind smoggy cities in favour of seemingly endless horizons thrills you to your bones.
But cruising along gravel and dirt roads isn't as easy as driving on carefully paved streets. Although busy freeways allow you to set your cruise control and relax in comfort, roads less travelled require a steady hand and a high level of finesse. If you don't take care, you and your holiday mates could end up camping in a ditch rather than your intended site.
As you load your vehicle and plan your route, make sure to follow these tips to keep accidents to a minimum.
1. Move Slowly and Steadily
Even if you rent a recreational vehicle specifically designed to handle rough terrain, you'll need to understand that the truck will handle differently on gravel roads than on paved ones. Gravel often shifts unpredictably, and as a result, any sudden changes in your speed and direction could lead to sliding, skidding and rollovers.
Your first priority when shifting from paved to gravel roads should be to adjust your speed. Slow down as much as possible, and give yourself a chance to assess whether the gravel is loose or hard packed. Once you feel comfortable with the road conditions, you can accelerate slowly to the recommended speed limits. Keep in mind that you'll still need to reduce your speed again whenever you approach any hills and curves.
2. Drive in the Tracks of Previous Vehicles
When you take to bush roads, you'll quickly notice that gravel paths rarely remain constant. You can bet that every few kilometres will have a break in the surface as clay dries and crumbles, water erodes channels or local councils neglect regular maintenance.
However, you can usually trust in the tracks of previous cars and trucks for the safest, most reliable paths. As car after car and truck after truck travels the road, the tyres will eventually redistribute the gravel and create a hard-packed groove you can follow. If you only see one set of tyre tracks in the centre of the road, stay on those tracks as much as possible.
When you see an oncoming driver, slow down, pull as far to the side of the road as you can and then return to the established tracks once you've passed the other car. When following another vehicle, give yourself at least a six-second gap between you and the previous car or truck so you have plenty of breaking time and so dust has a chance to settle.
3. Learn to Skid Safely
Experienced, safe and focused drivers may find themselves skidding on gravel roads, so you'll want to know what to do should your own vehicle start to slide. Before you panic, remember that the tyres will wander to some degree as you travel on gravel roads. If you keep a steady, consistent pace and press forward in the same direction, your truck should find traction and recover on its own.
But if your vehicle does begin to skid dangerously, don't hit the brakes. Instead, take your foot off the accelerator, look where you want to go and move in that direction. If your wheels go off the road edge, steer your car so it follows the edge of the road until you find traction again. Then, gradually guide the tyres back to the centre and continue to drive at low speeds.
Enjoy Your Trip Without the Risks
When you drive in the Outback, you have the unique opportunity to see Mother Nature at her best and civilization (or at least the roads) at its worst. But just because the paths look intimidating doesn't mean you have to miss out on breathtaking views and stunning sunsets. When you follow these basic driving tips, you significantly reduce your chance of damaging yourself, your vehicle and your passengers.