How to recover steering control when your car is straddling uneven pavement surfaces.
A common roadway work zone feature–and a potential hazard–is uneven pavement surfaces–adjacent areas that are higher or lower than each other. The unevenness is due to milling or paving operations.* You’ll also see uneven surfaces where a pavement edge drops off to a lower shoulder.
*NOTE: “Milling” means grinding down the pavement to prepare the road to be repaved. Paving involves placing new layers of asphalt or concrete. Because these operations are done one lane at a time, the overall surface ends up uneven.
Unevenness of a couple of inches or more could cause you to lose control of your car and stray into a neighboring lane…or leave the road entirely!
At the very least, driving over uneven surfaces can startle you and make it hard to steer–especially when your right tires and left tires end up on different levels. Since you immediately want to get your car back under control, and drive it straight and steady, you may overreact by turning the steering wheel too sharply. Or you may panic because you don’t know how to steer your wheels over the pavement edge, or if it’s even okay to try. Will your tires get “hung up” on the pavement edge?
Let’s say you’re driving in the lane next to a lower shoulder, and your right-side wheels stray over the edge drop-off and onto the shoulder. What should you do?
Well, DON’T do the following:
- Don’t slow way down, and certainly don’t stop.
- Don’t turn the steering wheel hard to the left to force your right wheels back onto the pavement.
- Don’t move your left wheels onto the shoulder and then quickly turn back onto the road.
Instead, DO THIS:
- Hold the steering wheel firmly and ease off the accelerator.
- With your car straddling the pavement edge, turn your steering wheel up to ¼ turn to the left –until the front tire contacts the pavement edge.
Then turn the steering wheel to go straight down the road. If the level of the shoulder is only slightly below the pavement, recovery is pretty easy. Both right tires should climb over the edge with no problem.
Recovery is harder if the shoulder is several inches below the pavement level. Try to follow the same procedure above… but if the right front tire “scrubs” against the pavement edge, DON’T steer more sharply to the left. (If you do, your car may jump back onto the road and cross over into the path of another vehicle!) INSTEAD, ease off the accelerator, straighten out your steering, straddle the pavement edge once more, and try again.