How to Stay Safe on Unsealed Roads or Beaches

Around 38 percent of New Zealand’s roads are unsealed, so it’s highly likely you will find yourself behind the wheel on one of our country’s rougher roads at some point. Plus, being a nation surrounded by ocean also gives us the luxury of being able to drive on many of our beautiful beaches.

It’s important to recognise that driving on unsealed roads and beaches requires a different approach to sealed roads. Here are a few tips to keep in mind, so you can take to our unsealed road and beaches confidently.

1. Know your vehicle

Understanding how your vehicle is powered will help you control your driving better where the road surface is unstable and unforgiving at times. For example, bear in mind where your car’s power comes from. A rear wheel drive car will perform differently to a vehicle with front or four wheel drive.

Remember too that your driving habits must adjust to fit the conditions on unsealed roads and on beaches – much like they would in wet weather. Drive NZ says you should increase your following distance on unsealed roads, as other vehicles can throw up dust, making it more difficult to see. Also, take into account the usual stopping distance of your vehicle and apply this when taking to unsealed roads.

In particular, ensure that you brake gradually, letting your vehicle stop in good time. Avoid panic braking at all costs as this won’t end well on an unsealed road surface.

2. Drive to the road conditions

Steep drops and roadside banks are commonplace on unsealed roads. These risk factors, along with unstable road surfaces, can create a dangerous combination. Exercising caution and showing appropriate driving etiquette suitable for the conditions will help you and other road users share the road safely.

According to the MTA, one of the most effective ways to drive safely to the conditions is to keep your speed down to between 40 and 50kmh. This is especially valid when there are oncoming cars, or you can see an oncoming dust cloud in the distance. Keep in mind that even this speed may be too high on narrow or potholed roads.

When approaching corners you should brake on the straight before entering the corner and take the bend as widely and smoothly as possible. Try to avoid braking hard while cornering on an unsealed road, as you may lose traction.

MTA adds that when driving on unsealed roads you should always have your headlights on as a courtesy to others – even during daylight hours. This helps provide additional visibility to other road users.

3. Be alert while beach driving

New Zealand has a number of driveable beaches, many of which are considered public roads, with the usual road rules applying. Before taking your vehicle for a drive on a beach, make sure you check any local council rules that may apply, as these can vary from beach to beach.

Another thing to check when driving on the beach is the tide forecast. Many people have been caught out by an incoming tide and some spots will be impossible to get out of if you misread the forecast.

A good rule for driving on the beach is to stick to the darker sand closer to the water, as this generally signals a firmer surface. However, avoid driving too close to the water or you risk getting stuck in wet sand. Be sure to also watch out for potholes or dips in the sand as they can be deceivingly deep.

You should always be aware of your speed and follow the beach’s speed limit, while also keeping a close eye on the movements of any people or animals. Lastly, when you get home, make sure you rinse your car down, as salt and sand can increase corrosion.