How to Drive on Murram Roads in East Africa

Three Methods:PreparationDrivingAccidents

Driving on murram [1] roads in East Africa is challenging and requires additional skills when compared to sealed or 'tarmac' roads.

Method 1
Preparation

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    Always check your vehicle for faults; vehicle maintenance standards vary and may not be to the vehicle manufacturers specifications.
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    Consider emulating airline pilots, armed service personnel and some police forces, who always do a walk around visual check prior to entering a vehicle/craft.
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    Check all fluid levels. In particular, it is essential to check oil and water daily due to the harsh operating conditions experienced in East Africa.
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    Check all tyres for tears, splits and at least visible tread, not forgetting the spare.
    • Check that there are the correct number of wheel nuts on each wheel. It is not uncommon to find only three or four nuts on a five nut wheel.
    • Spare wheels are often missing from vehicles in Africa.
    • A puncture is going to be your most likely 'breakdown' on murram roads due to their harsh nature on tyres.
    • Many 4x4 drive vehicles are not permanent all wheel drive. Check the front wheel hubs; if there is a lockable hub.[2] If planning to travel in the rain or through wet mud, consider engaging the hubs. Refer to the vehicles operating instructions if unsure.
      • If the hubs are not engaged and you slide into a ditch or bank you may not be able to access them and therefore may not be able to utilise the vehicles 4x4 capacity to drive out.
        • (If you think that you can't get stuck in a 4x4 vehicle then you have not been trying hard enough!) See [3] for a real life story about driving on murram
      • It is unlikely that there will be any form of vehicle roadside recovery available. Being stranded in the African bush overnight is not likely to be comfortable or particularly safe.
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    Ensure that there are maps in the vehicle that cover the area that you plan to travel to.
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    Consider getting a local person to write down the name of the place that you are travelling to in the local language.
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    Consider taking enough water and food to last at least the length of the journey and possibly enough to cope with a short delay.
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    Consider taking a basic medical kit, for presonal use only (be very wary of potential health risks/dangers associated with treating anyone else).
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    Ensure that you tell someone where you are going and when you plan to arrive or return.
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    Make an Emergency Plan of what to do if those arrival/return times are not met (no show).
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    Allow plenty of spare time before implementing the plan.

Method 2
Driving

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    Take the following factor into your emergency plan: events happen on rural roads in Africa that can take time to circumnavigate
    • Look out for:
      • Rain (washouts, missing bridges etc) Especially after heavy downpours.
      • Animals - Cows, goats. Snakes (don't drive over them; wait)
      • Stuck, stranded or abandoned vehicles
      • Market days get very busy.
      • Pedestrians and cyclist, especially on market days.
      • Other crowds especially around ceremonial times like funerals, circumcision ceremonies, weddings, political rallies etc.
    • Many murram roads are heavily cambered to protect them from heavy rainfall. This means that the usual place to drive is in the center of the road for maximum comfort for passengers and driver.
    • Predictably this causes a problem when faced with a vehicle travelling on the opposite direction.
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    When see a vehicle approaching do not start to move over to the side. If you do, the other driver will assume that you are willing to give way and will just keep on coming, straight at you in the center of the road. Possibly even driving you into the side of the road.
    • The usual way of passing could be compared to playing chicken.
    • Approach the other vehicle head on slowing down considerably to little above walking pace and at the last moment gracefully pull over to the side and the other vehicle will (hopefully) be doing exactly the same. Allowing a safe passing with neither vehicle being forced into the ditch or side of the road.
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    Remember to keep your thumbs out of the center of the steering wheel as potholes can snatch the steering wheel out of your hands and hit your thumbs, ...hard.
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    Remember that when driving on dry murram, you have much less grip and need to take care to slow down more in corners and brake more gradually.
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    Remember that when driving on murram, muddy patches/pot holes can snatch the steering wheel from your hands. Slow down on poor murram surfaces.
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    Use the vehicle's air conditioning if you have it since driving on murram can produce a lot of dust.. Otherwise, stay well behind any vehicles in front or even consider pulling over for a minute to allow their dust to clear before proceeding.
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    Be aware that many local people may 'ask' for lifts.
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    Check with your insurers/company/employer for their policy regarding passengers. Many do not allow them.

Method 3
Accidents

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    Avoid accidents. Hopefully, if you follow the above guidelines, accidents will be avoided. However, the protocol in many countries in Africa when involved in an accident is different from what occurs in places like the USA and Europe.
    • If involved in an accident in one of such countries, be aware that a large crowd may quickly gather, be very noisy and intimidating with lots of blame and shouting very likely.
    • Do not stop. Drive immediately to a police station and report the accident/get help.
    • You will achieve nothing staying at the scene and could put yourself in considerable danger if the crowd believe that the accident was your fault.
    • If you stay to 'argue' your case or 'try' and help anyone who is injured and there is a subsequent problem, you will be deemed responsible, with possible disastrous consequences.

Tips

  • Driving in East Africa is a wonderful experience full of stunning landscapes and often quiet roads that can really be enjoyed. As long as you are properly prepared and have taken the time to learn the local road rules.
  • Be aware that the unexpected may happen.

Warnings

  • Don't drive distracted. If the scenery is stunning; stop at a safe location, get out and have a proper look. Continue your journey concentrating on your driving instead of the scenery.

Things You'll Need

  • Access to a vehicle, preferably 4x4 drive if wet roads are anticipated.
  • Local Maps
  • Emergency plan in case of no show at destination.


Sources and Citations

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravel_road for explanations about non tarmac roads
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locking_hubs for information on 4x4 locking hubs
  3. http://www.oncourse4wd.com/roadcraft/prevent_rollover.asp Real life story about driving on murram.
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Article Info

Categories: Africa