A drive in the countryside is one of life’s simple pleasures but the sad fact is rural roads are potentially the most deadly.
Three in five fatal road accidents occur in the country and, according to Government statistics, more than 9,000 people were killed or seriously injured on those roads in 2014.
Rural driving can present more hazards for motorists, such as narrow roads, blind bends, dips and other distractions. Combine this with the typical 60 mph speed limits and the fact drivers share these roads with slow-moving farm machinery, horse riders, cyclists, livestock and wild animals, and it is easy to see how accidents can occur.
Tips for safe motoring on rural roads
1. Anticipate potential hazards
Roads in the countryside pose a challenge for drivers as they include many bends, dips, blind summits and concealed entrances.
Good drivers are constantly aware of what is happening around them and ensure they are scanning the road ahead and checking their mirrors.
Pay attention to the middle and far distance, not just what is immediately ahead of you. Looking further ahead will enable you to anticipate hazards earlier and adapt your driving to suit.
You should also pay attention to other road users, road signs and markings, as well as the type and condition of the road.
And remember – not all hazards can be anticipated so expect the unexpected.
2. Slow down ahead of bends
Country roads often have sharp bends and to ensure you are fully in control you should slow your speed ahead of the bend, not in it.
Be aware of road signs or chevrons as they might indicate the severity or direction of bends in the road.
When you see a bend in the road ahead you should assess your speed and adjust accordingly. Ease off the accelerator earlier rather than using the brakes harshly later - this is safer and less demanding on your car. Use progressive braking as this technique is smoother and change down gear if necessary to give you better control of the car.
Keep to the centre of your lane and avoid creeping too close to the other carriageway as oncoming vehicles may be taking the corner wide.
3. Allow ample stopping distance
Always drive at a speed which will allow you to stop in the distance you can see to be clear. This should also take into account that rural roads can often be obscured by overgrown verges, bushes and trees.
If you were driving at 60mph, the Department for Transport says it would typically take 73 metres (or 18 car lengths) to stop – the distance is halved at 40mph.
Allow more time to stop on wet or slippery surfaces. Braking distances are much longer for larger and heavier vehicles, and in wet or icy conditions.
And remember your brakes may be less effective if you have driven through deep water.
4. The speed limit is not a target
The national speed limit on single carriage roads is 60mph, but there will be times you need to drive under that in order to drive correctly for the conditions.
You should always reduce your speed when:
- the road layout or condition presents hazards
- you are sharing the road with pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders
- weather conditions deteriorate
- driving at night due to the decreased visibility
5. Be patient
If you get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle such as a tractor be patient. Tractors are rarely travelling long distances and at some point will leave the road. Be prepared for tractors to turn into fields and farmyards and other less obvious turnings and remember that when turning right a tractor with a trailer will pull over to the left first in order to negotiate the turn.
If you must overtake, be certain that the way ahead is clear, check your rear view mirrors and indicate clearly before pulling out.
6. Consider other road users
The most vulnerable road users are pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders, all of which are common on country roads. It is particularly important to be aware of children, older and disabled people, and learner and inexperienced drivers and riders.
Always slow down and be prepared to stop if necessary, giving other road users plenty of room as you drive past.
Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Look out for horse riders’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop.
When passing animals, drive slowly. Give them plenty of room and be ready to stop. Do not scare animals by sounding your horn, revving your engine or accelerating rapidly once you have passed them. If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, stop and switch off your engine until they have left the road.
7. Never take the roads for granted
Even if you’re familiar with a country road, you should never become complacent as the conditions can be different every time. Often when we become accustomed to a stretch of road it is all too easy to end up driving on autopilot or letting your speed creep up.
But the points above highlight that you may happen upon other road users unexpectedly at any time, while changing seasons and weather conditions will require you to adapt your driving style.