Danger in SA's mountains: 8 top driving tips

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 DANGER IN THE MOUNTAINS: Our guide to travelling along South Africa's mountain passes could save your life and prevent disasters such as this crash in Elandskop, KwaZulu-Natal in 2011. Image: Arrive Alive ~ Supplied

Whether you’re a veteran traveler or a novice at cross-country driving, South African drivers are bound to traverse mountain passes at some point.

Mountain passes can be exhilarating, says Arrive Alive but all too often inexperienced drivers are unaware of the dangers a mountain trip can pose.

Arrive Alive editor Johan Jonck said: “Drivers need to be prepared for steep hills, winding roads, wildlife and rocks in the road. These challenges become even more difficult when driving on gravel and in bad weather."

BE PREPARED

Jonck added: "Apart from obeying the Rules of the Road there are requirements to be prepared for the trip, knowing about priority rules, knowing how to control your vehicle on slopes and paying attention to speed adjustments when necessary.”

“Drivers should be prepared for the journey especially in remote areas where they may not be familiar with the roads. The need for preparedness increases where there may be other challenges such as adverse weather  including snow, fog and mist and veld fires.”


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“Some passes may be too narrow or steep and drivers may be advised not to take along a trailer or caravan. We recommend using a GPS device or tools such as Google Maps to find routes and traveling times.”

Before heading out consider the following:
  • Check weather and road conditions.
  • Pay attention to road signage and warnings of possible road closures, rock falls, flooding etc.
  • Unpaved surfaces provide significantly less traction. Slow down and take curves on a wider arc than you might attempt on paved roads.
  • Inform others where you are going and when to expect your return.

MOUNTAIN-DRIVING TIPS

The higher the altitude, the less oxygen there is in the air. When driving at higher elevations, insufficient hydration can lead to symptoms of altitude sickness, affecting alertness.

A steep uphill/downhill can put strain on your engine and brakes. The ability to adjust your driving style is critical and an awareness of the risks are some of the most important aspects safe driving in SA’s mountains.

Driving along mountain passes:

  1 Obey speed limits and look for signs that warn you about steep gradients ahead.
  2 Your view can be blocked by curves, rock walls or trees along the road, so adjust your speed accordingly.
  3 Reduce speed during and after bad weather – there may be rocks and fallen trees on the route.
  4 You should be maintain a safe speed on winding mountain roads.
  5 A crash barrier or fence is not always designed to actually stop a vehicle during a crash.
  6 Only pass slower-moving traffic when you’ve have a clear view of the road ahead. Never pass another car on a blind curve or when your visibility is compromised.
  7 Mountain roads may have unlit tunnels. Double check if your lights are switched on, take off your sunglasses and adjust your speed.
  8 Engage the appropriate gear before dealing with any hills and don’t get caught out trying to engage a lower gear in corners or bends.

SPECIAL CONDITIONS, CHALLENGES

There may be special considerations to take into account when driving in mountains and mountain passes:
  • Where weather conditions deteriorate (i.e fog, rain, wind, or snow), slow down, be observant and demonstrate courtesy to fellow road-users.
  • Weather conditions may require extended periods of waiting for roads to be cleared, and your vehicle's engine should not be shut off during these periods.
  • If your vehicle stalls, stay with it. Cars are much more visible in snow than pedestrians.
  • When driving at night dim your high beams as soon as you see the sweep of an oncoming vehicle's lights. Hampering the other driver's night vision is more dangerous when there's a cliff involved.
  • Do not pull over on places with rubble on the road, because it indicates an increased risk of more rubble coming down.
  • Avoid wrecks with wildlife by keeping an eye out for animals, especially at night.

DANGERS ON SA'S ROADS: South Africa's mountain passes pose many dangers - especially rockfalls such as this. Image: Arrive Alive