How often have you heard the strapline ‘speed kills’? And when you have heard it, how frequently have you dismissed it? It’s easy to disagree with this over-simplified slogan, as motorways are not only our fastest roads but they’re also our safest. You can often drive at 70mph in complete safety, thanks to an absence of pedestrians, horses, tractors, cyclists, cars parked by the side of the road and a multitude of other hazards. Drive on rural roads and you’ve got all these hazards – plus plenty more thrown in for good measure– yet the speeds at which you drive can be not far off what you might expect to do on the motorway.
How can I stay safe on rural roads?
It’s no wonder that two-thirds of all road deaths in the UK take place on rural roads; in Wales and Scotland this figure jumps to three-quarters. Rural roads are the ones most likely to catch out a new driver because they can feature so many hazards, which aren’t always immediately apparent.
It’s not until you’ve encountered something that you’re aware of its potential presence; the first time you drive in the country it might be uneventful, spurring you on to assume it’s always like that.
But the next drive might throw up all sorts of hazards, and if you’re not looking out properly or you’re driving too fast for the conditions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll end up having a crash. Good observation, correct positioning on the road and matching your speed to the conditions are the key things. Get those right and everything should be fine.
Traffic cop Paul Smart often has to pick up the pieces when a driver gets it wrong. He says: “It’s a lack of experience that’s the problem. While older drivers have more powerful cars, those cars have better brakes and the drivers are more experienced; they know that a gateway coming up could mean a tractor about to emerge onto the road.
“They also know that if they can’t see a stretch of road ahead – because of a blind bend or a dip – they know they have to slow down because they don’t know what’s in that ‘dead’ bit of road.
“What we tend to find is that if there’s a crash on a rural road it’s because a young driver has been over-confident in their approach to a hazard and haven’t left themselves with enough time or distance to pull up. The result is invariably a crash and in all too many cases that crash is fatal.”
Watch out for:
Not only do these tend to go slowly, but with a huge trailer on the back they can easily take up all of the road. Go too quickly round a corner and you might be faced with one coming the other way – and you’ll leave yourself with nowhere to go.
People on horseback are common on rural roads; encounter one of these and you need to pass wide and slow. In theory these animals are under control, but many animals on rural roads are far from under control. Deer, escaped cattle and other animals are a law unto themselves…
Those tractors we just encountered tend to drive out of fields with mud all over their tyres, which they then deposit all over the road. Add a bit of rain and the road takes on the properties of a skating rink. Go too fast and a skid is guaranteed…
There’s room for only one car at a time on a single-track road. So if you’re whizzing along and something comes the other way you’d better be able to pull up in time or there’s going to be a collision. Remember that line about always driving so you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear…?
If you’re out in the country after there’s been a storm there’s a good chance that you’ll encounter some debris in the road. If you’re unlucky you could round a bend to find the road blocked by a tree.
Anyone can drive quickly in a straight line, but once you throw a series of sharp bends into the equation things get a lot trickier. Choosing the correct speed and positioning yourself on the road suddenly become incredibly important, but many drivers aren’t that good at it. Just spot all the gaps in the hedges on those sharp bends…
Most villages have a 30mph limit and in that respect they’re much like towns. They also have cars parked in the road, pedestrians, cyclists and all sorts of other potential hazards. That’s why you need to treat any village as you would a town; keep your speed down and be prepared to deal with hazards at short notice.
Rural drains aren’t always that well maintained and roads that were first built decades ago may not be very well surfaced. As a result, deep puddles and floodwater are a fact of life for country dwellers. Once again the key is to keep your speed down; the faster you go the more likely you are to lose control by skating across the surface of the water.