Off-Road Recovery

Imagine you are driving on a rural highway at 90 km/h and you reach down to adjust the vehicle temperature or change the radio station. As you take your eyes off the road for that split second, you suddenly realize your passenger side tires are riding on the shoulder. What do you do? What’s the safest way to get back on the road after unintentionally drifting onto a highway shoulder?

Many drivers try to slow down as quickly as possible by hitting the brakes. Others might try to get the vehicle back on the highway by quickly steering back to the left. Some will even combine these two actions and hit the brakes while swerving back to the left.

If 2015 statistics are any indication, many drivers don’t know what to do. In Alberta, 2,021 casualty collisions occurred because of vehicles running off the road. Hitting the brakes, or steering quickly left can result in either rolling a vehicle, or “sling-shotting” across the highway and hitting something on the other side of the road.

Tips To Get Back on the Road

If, for any reason, you drive off the travel portion of a highway, remain calm and do the following:

  • Grip the steering wheel firmly (to avoid over-steering, a 9 and 3 grip is the best position).
  • Avoid steering the vehicle immediately back onto the road, no matter how tempting it may be.
  • Ease your foot off the gas pedal to slow down.
  • If possible, avoid braking. If you do need to brake, use gradual pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Use your mirrors to check for traffic behind you, check blind spots, signal, look well ahead and ease back onto the pavement.
  • Return to the road, being careful not to cross the centre line, and immediately straighten your vehicle in the proper travel lane.

Preventative Tips:

  • Be well rested prior to driving.
  • Preset all vehicle instrument panel controls (to avoid distractions).
  • Look well ahead (at least 20 seconds ahead in rural areas).
  • Drive to conditions.
  • Put both hands on the steering wheel.
  • Brake prior to curves/never in the curve.
  • Never use cruise control on wet, muddy or slippery roads.
  • Operate the vehicle’s controls in a smooth and constrained manner (smooth braking, steering and acceleration).

Remember, any abrupt movement back onto the highway could cause your vehicle to cross the centre line into the path of oncoming traffic. Many head-on collisions in Canada occur because of over-corrected steering. Keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and concentrate on the task of driving.

Update to the Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Helmet Law

As of May 15, 2017, CSA-compliant helmets must be worn by OHV users when riding on public land. Helmets are required for anyone driving, operating, riding in or on, or being towed by, an OHV. Helmets are however not required when using an OHV when performing farm and/or ranch work on your own property as well as on First Nations Reserve or Metis Settlement lands, unless they have a law requiring it. The fine for not wearing a helmet is $155.

Ready to take our Quiz? We recommend that you read Ditching the Ditch and Eyes on the Road, or, you can take the quiz now.


I am a Fleet Safety Operations Manager with 30 years of experience teaching traffic safety across five provinces, and in four countries. Outside of work, I am an avid traveller, a fervent Flames fan, and a Mustang enthusiast.