The Hidden Dangers of Driving on Gravel Roads and Hills

Does Driving on Gravel Hurt Your Car?Speeding. Running red lights. Weaving through traffic. The list of dangerous driving habits that could cause a serious or even deadly accident is extensive. Even something as simple as driving through an intersection can be dangerous. In fact, there are so many well-known dangers associated with driving that most drivers are unaware of some of the less obvious dangerous situations they may encounter while driving. Among those are driving on gravel roads and driving up and down hills.

If this sounds ridiculous, consider the fact that it only takes one lapse in judgment or a moment of distraction while driving on a gravel road or over a hill to put yourself and your passengers – as well as anyone else on the road – in harm’s way.

Car accidents on North Dakota’s gravel roads

There are thousands of unpaved roads throughout North Dakota. In fact, according to a 2017 report by KX News, there are more unpaved roads than paved in North Dakota. That may be unsurprising if you live here in Minot, given the $40 million they want to spend to upgrade 66th and 93rd Avenues over the next decade or so.

Gravel roads, while common in North Dakota, are dangerous precisely because they are unpaved. After all these years, we know what it’s like when the wheels start spinning or the back end slides out: you deal with it and you move on. But there are going to be times where those unpaved roads pose a real risk, and you can’t avoid driving on them that day. Whether it is a sudden downpour from a summer thunderstorm or snow and ice during a winter storm, inclement weather can make gravel roads more hazardous by washing loose gravel out, or creating potholes and uneven terrain. Any mounded gravel on the sides can suck you in, while loose gravel can cause you slide off the road and into a slough. It’s a good idea to carry one of those emergency hammers with you, too, lest the cattails get you.

Since most gravel roads are bladed, drivers tend to hog the middle. If you’re coming around a curve (or if dust is kicked up by oncoming traffic), your visibility is lower, increasing the chance of a collision.

Similarly, speeding on gravel roads in the dark or in any type of inclement weather can lead to a bad or even deadly outcome. At a high rate of speed, every small dip and bump in the road – and all of the larger ones – has the potential of damaging your vehicle, particularly the tires. A tire that blows after hitting a depression in a gravel road while speeding can send your car flying or spinning off the road and into a field or, even worse, a ditch.

The downside to driving up and over hills

In July, a fella from South Dakota was speeding over a hill near Strasburg and lost control on the way down. The vehicle rolled over and he died from his injuries. It’s sad, but it’s important because you know, like we know, that this man grew up with gravel roads, too. He wasn’t some tourist from a place where every road is paved and there are speed bumps and stop signs and lights and crosswalks at every turn.

But that’s how fast a deadly crash can happen, even when you’ve spent your whole life traveling on unpaved roads.

Whether you are driving uphill or downhill, there are specific things you should be aware of, as each situation presents its own specific challenges. When driving uphill, for example, drivers may encounter:

  • Limited visibility. Depending on the size of the hill, the time of day, the weather, and if the road curves, your visibility is typically limited while driving uphill. This means that you have no idea what may be traveling toward you from the opposite direction, which interferes with your ability to anticipate another driver’s actions and react accordingly and promptly. Slow down, proceed with caution, and pull to the right a bit to avoid a sideswipe or a head-on crash.
  • Sliding backward. Most vehicles these days have the horsepower to climb any hilly road in North Dakota. But if the weather is bad – particularly if the roadway is slick with rain or is icy or covered with snow – it can be difficult for your tires to maintain contact with the road. This can result in your vehicle sliding backward a bit, which can be dangerous if another vehicle is following you too closely. It can be especially dangerous if you, or a car in front of you, are following a large truck too closely while driving uphill. Because of their weight, semi-trucks and tractor-trailers can have a tougher time going uphill – especially if the hill is steep. Following too closely behind another vehicle is always dangerous under any circumstance, but it is exceptionally dangerous when that other vehicle is a large truck and that truck is driving up a hill.

In contrast, when driving downhill, it may seem like there is less to be concerned about – after all, gravity is doing a lot of the work. But gravity is precisely why driving downhill can be dangerous. Drivers should be aware of the following while driving downhill:

  • Speeding. Everyone knows speeding is dangerous, but that danger is multiplied when speeding down a hill. Drivers who do so risk their vehicle’s tires losing contact with the road and them losing control of their vehicle. The result can be a serious or even fatal car accident. Whether you rear-end the vehicle in front of you, end up crossing the center line into oncoming traffic and smash into another vehicle, or you and your vehicle end up in a ditch, the result is the same: a painful, expensive, and potentially deadly accident that could have been avoided.
  • Braking problems. Driving downhill seems simple enough, but some drivers have a habit of riding their brakes the whole way down the hill. This can be dangerous because braking for an extended period can wear out your brakes. And where is the number one place you do not want to lose your brakes? That’s right, when you are driving downhill. This can be especially dangerous for large trucks, as their weight can propel them forward even faster, and thus proper braking techniques are a necessity. This is another reason why keeping a safe distance between your vehicle and the car or truck in front of you is a good idea. Experts recommend that drivers use a tapping method when driving downhill, particularly when it is a steep hill. This means hitting the brake pedal with quick, light taps to keep the brakes cool. We recommend downshifting if you can.

Drivers should also anticipate sharp turns while driving downhill, and brake before driving into the turn. This shifts the force to the back of the car rather than the front, providing better control and maneuverability on winding roads.

It is important to remember that even if you drive carefully and avoid risky behaviors while on the road, other drivers may not. Whether you are on a gravel road or approaching or descending a hill – or if you are anywhere else – car accidents can happen at any time. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Demonstrating that the other driver is at fault is crucial, and for that, you need an experienced Minot car accident attorney.

From our offices in Minot, Bismarck, and Fargo, the personal injury lawyers at Larson Law fight hard to ensure car accident victims receive the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident in Minot or the surrounding area, we can help. Call us or complete our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.