How to drive safely on the beach

When the sun comes out, it’s a very Kiwi activity to head to the beach for a day out. Taking a beach trip often means switching our cars from the roads to the sand and exploring more remote places where different driving rules apply.

Driving on the beach presents different conditions and challenges to be aware of. Some simple precautions can help prevent your vehicle from getting stuck and ruining your day out.

Plan your journey

Looking up details about the beach and its drivability will save you a lot of time and potential trouble by preventing you from going to places where you could get stuck. Local council websites are a good place to start for finding information and a simple Google search will often reveal more information.

Any recent news stories about the beach can be insightful and help you avoid the mistakes of others. Other information to note for are the tide times, as some beaches are much less accessible during high tides.

Removing unnecessary items from your vehicle makes it a little lighter and less likely to get bogged down. To be prepared, we recommend bringing a shovel in case you need to remove sand from around your wheels if you get stuck. You should also check you have sufficient petrol and water before you head out, particularly if your beach destination is in a more remote part of the country.

If you’re taking a newer car onto the sand, it pays to note that some insurance policies have beach exclusion and other conditions that may apply, leaving you without insurance coverage for any accidents.

On the beach

When you arrive at the beach, be sure to check signage and any guides or vehicle restrictions in place. Some beaches around the country have 4WD-only signs.

Keep off the dunes, as driving on them may destroy vegetation specifically planted to protect erosion. If possible, stick to other vehicle’s tyre tracks to minimise your impact on the environment. By keeping to existing tyre tracks, you are also likely following a tried and tested route to ensure a safe passage for your vehicle.

Avoid puddles, wet sand, and other obstacles on the sand as holes can be deceptively deep and are one of the most common causes of beachgoers getting stuck in the sand.

On the beach, it’s important to show consideration to other users when driving past them. Beaches are shared by families with young children and dogs, which have greater freedom than in urban areas, so extra awareness is needed.

Where possible, drive on firm sand and take wide, careful turns. Also, keep your speed in check and manoeuvre with caution. When parking, it’s recommended to park facing towards the water so you have slight downhill momentum to easily get going again. This also helps keep your attention on the water.

Beaches with public access fall under the legal definition of a public road, which means standard road rules still apply, so police can enforce traffic laws. Treat the beach like a regular road, where you must obey speed limits, wear seat belts, and ensure your vehicle is registered.

Sea, salt, and sand can be corrosive. Once you’ve returned home, be sure to give your car a good clean to prevent any damage to your vehicle.

If you’re planning a trip to the beach soon, be sure to prepare correctly, drive safely and take extra care so you spend your time enjoying the beach – not digging your vehicle out of it.