When sitting behind the steering wheel and battling to negotiate an off-road obstacle, a lot of people tend to confuse left with right. And that’s rather unfortunate, says Francois Rossouw, because it can easily lead to serious accidents.
Judging by the amount of times I have witnessed the simple act of confusing left with right result in hassles and near-misses, it must surely have also been the result of some serious accidents. People, it seems, just can’t keep track of left and right when they’re in a pinch.
On a recent dune trip, we were accompanied by a bunch of 4×4 rookies who had never driven off road in their lives.
I must say that woman tend to be better off-road pupils than men. Women follow instructions. Men, however, follow their own instincts. That being said, our group of 4×4 rookies did very well. They listened to instructions and managed to traverse the dunes without too much hassle.
At one stage, though, one of the rookies went down a steep dune with his wheels pointed in the wrong direction. This worried me, since it could cause the vehicle to turn sideways, which could potentially allow it to roll.
The problem, of course, is that one can’t see one’s front wheels when driving. The tyres follow the lines of the deep sand, which means that you’re often unsure which way your wheels are pointing. If the wheels then find sudden grip, they jump out of the tracks, and cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
The front wheels also act as brakes when they are pointed the wrong way, which is why a lot of people get stuck easily – they simply can’t generate the needed momentum.
I called the driver over the two-way radio, and told him to turn his wheels to the right. But he turned to the left. I could see that disaster was about to strike, and shouted at him: “Right! Turn to the other right!”
Sadly, his confusion just escalated. He kept turning the wrong way. At this point, I made use of a strategic expletive to pull him from his stupor. Thankfully it work and he started turning the wheels just in time.
A common cause of the whole left/right confusion is the fact that one person’s left is sometimes another’s right. For example, if you’re standing in front of someone’s vehicle and guiding them through an obstacle, your left would be their right. If you then tell him or her to turn left, they would understandably be unsure whether you are referring to their left or your own.
For this reason, it is a better idea to show the person which way to turn. Use your hands to point in the correct direction, rather than explaining things over a two-way radio.
Piloting a 4×4 off road is stressful, especially if you’re new to the activity, so mistaking left for right can happen more easily than you might imagine.
Feet also tend to do odd things when placed in the foot well of a 4×4. There is a natural tendency to step on the clutch, when that is the absolute last thing that should be done. If you press down on the clutch while descending a dune, you can easily lose control of your vehicle.
Power should also be applied carefully. You should apply a lot of power in the seconds before you start to scale a dune, but as you climb, power should gradually be reduced. Stepping hard on the accelerator close to the top of a dune where the sand is loose will result in wheel spin, which will cause a vehicle to bog down. Ideally, the existing momentum should gently send a vehicle over the crest of the dune without the need for more power.
Off-road driving might sound easy in theory, but trust me, when you find yourself in a hairy situation, even the most basic tasks can become tricky. Make sure that an expert has shown you the ropes before tackling a difficult off-road route!