Weekend Roll-Overs on the Sand Dunes

Ahhhh, relax, it won’t happen to me! I’m an excellent driver!

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These photos taken on location in the desert, by me or my buddies. Yes, it can happen.

Sometimes it almost happens:

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Roll-over stuck UAE car weekend

First, let me tell you it looks worse than it is, in terms of injury.

Without seatbelt, yes, it can be serious and even deadly.

Usually it is a slow and leisurely roll – nothing like a roll at speed off the highway. Really, injuries are rare.

There are basically two kinds of roll-overs.

There’s the side roll-over, when the vehicle is going across an incline and it tips over onto its side. And then there’s the head-over-heels roll when a dune is crested at too fast a speed: the front takes air and then lands heavily onto the front bumper, causing the car to flip over lengthways, landing heavily on the roof.

The first kind is caused by not enough speed, and the second by too much speed.

The perfect speed is difficult to judge, and it’s always better to go too slow and have to turn down or take a second run.

Driving skill and experience helps, but sometimes the desert catches out even the pros. The video clip below was taken by an experienced off-roading buddy. As you’ll see, this can happen to anyone:

To avoid a roll some techniques can help.

Here is the correct way to drive up or down a steep dune:

Correct descent

The incorrect way…

… but also the fun way!

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This is what happens if you don’t get the speed right. It feels pretty scary to be stuck there almost tipping over on such a high dune!

Dune driving

If that happens to you, what to do?

Usually, you sit tight and trust in your driving buddies.

They should anchor your vehicle from the high side, to prevent any further movement which could pass the roll-over point.

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The sand’s angle of repose is around 35 degrees, depending on the coarseness of the grain and the humidity present – but as a rule of thumb that’s quite accurate. What is your vehicle’s roll-over angle, fully loaded?

Pretty darn close!

Angle or repose

And as the downhill wheels shift under all the weight, or uphill people get out, or cargo slides, or brakes are applied just before coming to a halt, or even there’s a bush or harder patch uphill, you can actually feel the moment the angle is breached. See the photo below and look how close that is!

Recovery

If your driving buddies don’t know what to do, find yourself a good 4×4 club and drive with them.

Whatever you do, it’s better not to remove your seatbelt and make sure everyone stays away from the downhill side. If you decide to have a buddy pull your vehicle with a tow-strap, attach the rope to the rear downhill side, and give instructions to pull very gently and only for the distance of a foot or two.

When the rear slides down, the off-camber angle is now reduced, and you can probably reverse down safely.

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As has been demonstrated by the abundance of photos, roll-overs do and can happen!

It has nothing to do with being “an excellent driver” – Please always respect the limits of physics and stay safe in the dunes: for your, your passengers, your car, and your buddies’ sake.

The good desert trip is the one that ends with everyone home safe and sound.

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