City centre driving has many risks – manoeuvring through streets congested with cars, cabs, cyclists and pedestrians – but the instinctive answer to the question ‘what are the UK’s most dangerous roads?’ is surely motorways? Three lanes of busy traffic with cars hurtling past over 70 mph, surely motorways are the most dangerous?
But no, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not the motorway or the city centre. The most dangerous place to drive is on a country lane or rural road.
Staggeringly, the number of people killed on country roads is nearly 11 times higher than on motorways.
60% of all fatalities occur on country roads; that’s an average of three a day.
What makes rural roads so dangerous?
The danger on rural roads is that drivers tend to drive too fast. They can get lulled into a false sense of security, fail to anticipate the road ahead, face more unexpected hazards and often be further from help and medical attention.
Motorists tend to drive faster on rural roads, meaning speed is a major factor in country road crashes. “One of the difficulties,” according to Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, “is that it is locked into the British psyche that these roads are safe roads – you can still imagine yourself doing 60mph in your open-top sports car.”
But at 60mph, a driver’s stopping distance is 73 metres (or about three tennis courts). So if a hazard like an animal or another vehicle suddenly appears within this distance (as can often happen on rural roads) the driver is not able to stop in time.
Driving slower than 40mph is far more appropriate for country roads and there is growing pressure to lower the speed limit. According to a Brake and Digby Brown survey, most people (80% of those surveyed) think traffic is too fast to be safe on some or most country roads, and 72% support slower speed limits (50, 40 or 30mph) on country roads.
Read the road ahead
There may be less traffic on country roads, but it doesn’t mean there’s less danger. Rural roads can be deceptive. It can seem that they go on and on with not a car or a problem in sight but there are many hidden dangers, from concealed driveways to sharp turns and unexpected hazards.
This video from THINK! uses 3D scanning technology to demonstrate the dangers drivers face.
‘Brake before the bend not on it’ highlights the fact that in the real world you can’t see the dangers around the bend – or over the hill or in the dark – so it’s important to slow down to allow yourself time to react and stay in control.
Rural roads aren’t built to the same specification as motorways so you need to be on the lookout for roadside hazards too and aware of ‘soft shoulders’, ditches and overgrown verges.
Watch out for more vulnerable road users
Country roads are shared spaces but they can be narrow with blind bends, potholes, debris, and no pavements or cycle paths. This makes other road users, such as walkers, cyclists and horse riders, especially vulnerable.
Per mile travelled, cyclists are almost three times more likely to be killed on a country road than on an urban road, and motorcyclists are more than twice as likely to be killed on a country road.
On country roads, it’s vital to drive slowly enough to have time to react to people or hazards and prevent a crash. If you have to pass vulnerable road users it’s especially important to go wide, driving slowly around them.
Overtaking on a single carriageway road is one of the most dangerous things a drivers can do. This is because it’s impossible to accurately judge the speed and distance of approaching traffic. And when you’re travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road this lack of judgement can be fatal – when two cars head towards each other at 60mph the gap between them decreases by about 60 metres every second.
Overtaking is not only highly dangerous but also pointless. According to road safety charity Brake, if you’re driving at 55mph, and overtake someone doing 50mph with ten miles left of your journey; you’ll only arrive, at the most, one minute sooner than if you’d stayed where you were.
So if you get stuck behind a slow moving vehicle, be patient and only consider overtaking if it’s absolutely vital.
Distance from help and medical attention
Drivers injured in a road traffic accident have a better chance of surviving the sooner they receive expert medical attention. Unfortunately, country roads can be remote and isolated so they are often further from a major hospital and the accident may take place without anyone else realising it.
This is what happened to Max Charles a teenage driver who crashed his car on a country road late at night, but was saved by the black box that had been fitted to his car to help reduce his car insurance.
No one saw Max’s car come off the road but his insurance company (drive like a girl, our sister brand) was alerted by the box registering a significant impact. Because of the time and the remoteness of the rural location, they called the emergency services who found Max and airlifted him to hospital in London.
Max from Leatherhead, Surrey said “I feel so lucky to be alive” and Surrey Police posted a message on Twitter saying: ‘Thanks to Drive Like A Girl, who rang us when they detected an impact. Without their help, we would not have found the car and driver so quickly.’ The Accident Alert service is available exclusively with drive like a girl, insurethebox and Tesco Bank Box Insurance.
Even if you’re familiar with a country road, never take it for granted as conditions can be different every time.
And, slow down.
Driving too fast is too often related to the most common types of crash on rural roads – running off the road, crashes at junctions and head-on collisions.
Road Safety charity Brake is campaigning for ‘slower speeds on country roads and better walking and cycling routes in rural areas’ through their Rural roads not racetracks campaign.
Brake are ‘calling on government to lower the default speed limit on country roads from 60 to 50mph, and require local authorities to implement 40, 30 and 20mph limits where there are particular risks.’ They say “Lower speed limits should be combined with enhanced traffic enforcement, and public education campaigns warning of the dangers of speed and overtaking on country roads.”
Let us know what you think in the comment section below.