Gravel road

Gravel road
A gravel road, as often found in rural areas and lesser-developed nations.
A close-up of a gravel road in Terre Haute, Indiana.

A gravel road is a type of unpaved road surfaced with gravel that has been brought to the site from a quarry or stream bed. They are common in less-developed nations, and also in the rural areas of developed nations such as Canada and the United States. In New Zealand, they are known as 'metal roads'.[1] They may be referred to as 'dirt roads' in common speech, but that term is used more for unimproved roads with no surface material added. If well constructed and maintained, a gravel road is an all-weather road.

The gravel used consists of irregular stones mixed with a varying amount of sand, silt, and clay, which can act as a binder. A gravel road is quite different from a 'gravel drive', popular as private driveways in the United Kingdom. This uses clean gravel consisting of uniform, rounded stones and small pebbles.




Compared to sealed roads, which require large machinery to work and pour concrete or to lay and smooth a bitumen-based surface, gravel roads are easy and cheap to build. However, compared to dirt roads, all-weather gravel highways are quite expensive to build, as they require front loaders, dump trucks, graders and roadrollers to provide a base course of hard-packed earth or other material, sometimes macadamised, covered with one or more different layers of gravel. Graders are also used to produce a more extreme camber compared to a paved road to aid drainage, as well as construct drainage ditches and embankments in low-lying areas. Cellular confinement systems can be used to prevent the washboarding effect.

Laterite and murram roads

In Africa and parts of Asia, laterite soils are used to build dirt roads. However laterite, called murram in East Africa, varies considerably in the proportion of stones (which are usually very small) to earth and sand. It ranges from a hard gravel to a softer earth embedded with small stones. Not all laterite and murram roads are therefore strictly gravel roads. Laterite and murram which contains a significant proportion of clay becomes very slippery when wet, and in the rainy season, it may be difficult even for four-wheel drive vehicles to avoid slipping off very cambered roads into the drainage ditches at the side of the road. As it dries out, such laterite can become very hard, like sun-dried bricks.


Gravel roads require much more frequent maintenance than paved roads, especially after wet periods and when accommodating increased traffic. Wheel motion shoves material to the outside (as well as in-between travelled lanes), leading to rutting, reduced water-runoff, and eventual road destruction if unchecked. As long as the process is interrupted early enough, simple re-grading is sufficient, with material being pushed back into shape.

Another problem with gravel roads is washboarding — the formation of corrugations across the surface at right angles to the direction of travel. They can become severe enough to cause vibration in vehicles so that bolts loosen or cracks form in components. Grading removes the corrugations, and reconstruction with careful choice of good quality gravel can help prevent them re-forming. Additionally, installing a cellular confinement system will prevent the washboard-like corrugations from occurring.

Gravel roads are often found in cold climates because they are less vulnerable to freeze / thaw damage than asphalt roads and also because the inferior surface of gravel is not an issue if the road is covered by snow and ice for extended periods.


Although well-constructed and graded gravel roads are suitable for speeds of 100 km/h (60 mph), driving on them requires far more attention to variations of the surface and it is easier to lose control than on a paved road. In addition to potholes, ruts and loose stony or sandy ridges at the edges or in the middle of the road, problems associated with driving on gravel roads include:

  • sharper and larger stones cutting and puncturing tires, or being thrown up by the wheels and damaging the underside, especially puncturing the fuel tank of unmodified cars
  • stones skipping up hitting the car body, lights or windshields when two vehicles pass
  • dust thrown up from a passing vehicle reducing visibility
  • 'washboard' corrugations cause loss of control or damage to vehicles
  • skidding on mud after rain
  • in higher rainfall areas, the increased camber required to drain water, and open drainage ditches at the sides of the road, often cause vehicles with a high centre of gravity, such as trucks and off-road vehicles, to overturn if they do not keep close to the crown of the road.
  • Tire wear increases by 40%-50% on Gravel Roads
  • Excess dust permeates door-opening rubber moulding breaking the seal
  • Lost binder in the form of road dust, when mixed with rain, will wear away the painted surfaces of vehicles

Related types

Forest service road

A branch Forest Service Road in steep terrain. Photo taken in the Seymour Conservation Reserve near Vancouver, British Columbia.

A 'Forest Service Road' is a type of rudimentary access road, built by the Forest Service to access remote undeveloped areas. These roads are built mainly for the purposes of the logging industry and forest management workers, although in some cases they are also used for backcountry recreation access.

Networks of tributary roads branch off from a trunk FSR. Roads are usually named after a regional district, and branches have an alphanumeric designation.

Typically, a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle is required to travel effectively on a road, especially where large potholes and/or waterbars are present. Switchbacks are employed to make the road passable through steep terrain.

These roads rapidly fall into disrepair and quickly become impassable. Remnants of old roads can exist for decades. They are eventually erased by washout, erosion, and ecological succession.

Logging roads

Logging railroad converted to truck use in northwest Oregon

Logging roads are constructed to provide access to the forest for logging and other forest management operations. They are commonly narrow, winding, and unpaved, but main haul roads can be widened, straightened or paved if traffic volume warrants it.

The choice of road design standards is a trade off between construction costs and haul costs (which the road is designed to reduce). A road that serves only a few stands will be used by relatively few trucks over its lifetime, so it makes sense to save construction costs with a narrow, winding, unpaved road that adds to the time (and haul costs) of these few trips. A main haul road serving a large area however will be used by many trucks each day, and each trip will be shorter (saving time and money) if the road is straighter and wider, with a smoother surface.

Logging trucks are generally given right of way. In areas where this practice is regulated (or is supposed to be) non-highway roads with heavy logging traffic may be "radio-controlled", which is to say a CB radio on board any vehicle on the road is advised for safety reasons.

Gravel Road south of Coober Pedy

See also


  1. ^ Kiwi - Words & Phrases (from a private website)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • gravel road — A road which is covered with a layer of gravel. Also called a secondary road or an improved road …   Dictionary of automotive terms

  • gravel road — /ˈgrævəl roʊd/ (say gravuhl rohd) noun a road with a loose gravel surface …   Australian English dictionary

  • gravel road — A road, the surface of which is gravel applied, by a spreader, for the purpose of making the way passable in wet weather …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • Car Wheels on a Gravel Road — Infobox Album | Name = Car Wheels on a Gravel Road Type = Album Artist = Lucinda Williams Released = June 30, 1998 Recorded = Genre = Folk Rock Length = 51:40 Label = Mercury Polygram Producer = Roy Bittan Lucinda Williams Reviews = *Allmusic… …   Wikipedia

  • The gravel road — est un groupe de rock canadien. Ses compositions sombres reflètent la vie de ses membres, et leurs sentiments quelquefois suicidaires. Liens externes Site officiel Site parallèle …   Wikipédia en Français

  • covered with gravel road — žvyrkelis statusas T sritis ekologija ir aplinkotyra apibrėžtis Viršutinė (važiuojamoji) kelio danga iš žvyro. atitikmenys: angl. covered with gravel road; gravelled road vok. Kiesweg, m rus. гравийная дорога, f …   Ekologijos terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • The Gravel Road — est un groupe de rock canadien. Ses compositions sombres reflètent la vie de ses membres, et leurs sentiments quelquefois suicidaires. Liens externes Site officiel Site parallèle …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Gravel (disambiguation) — Gravel may refer to:Things: * Gravel, a type of rock * Gravel road, a type of road * Gravel pit, a mine for gravel * Gravel bar, a type of hydrogeologic sediment * River gravel, a subtype of gravel stone * Gravel mines, a type of weapon * Clay… …   Wikipedia

  • Road surface — A road in the process of being resurfaced Road surface (British English) or pavement (American English) is the durable surface material laid down on an area intended to sustain vehicular or foot traffic, such as a road or walkway. In the past… …   Wikipedia

  • Gravel — For other uses, see Gravel (disambiguation). Gravel (largest fragment in this photo is about 4 cm) …   Wikipedia