Driving on Rural Roads

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist


There’s a great deal of satisfaction to be gained from driving skilfully on country lanes. There are other benefits too – there’s usually less traffic, fewer 30 mph speed limits, and some great scenery on offer, too.

But it’s as well to remember that rural roads account for around three quarters of all fatal road collisions. There are many reasons why driving on these sorts of roads can be so hazardous.

Speed limits
Country lanes normally have a speed limit of 60 mph for cars and motorcycles. It’s fine drive to that limit, if you know it is safe to do so. But your golden rule is that you must always be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear ahead. And on narrow roads where there is no central white line, think about being able to stop in HALF the distance you can see to be clear ahead, simply because if you meet someone coming the other way, you will both need road space to stop safely…and half each is fair!

In poor weather, at night or on congested roads, then you will need to adjust your speed accordingly – to fit the road and weather conditions.

Sharing the road: farm vehicles
Let’s now think about who’s sharing the road space with us. There are tractors, combine harvesters (most with drivers wearing ear defenders, so they won’t hear you) and other agricultural vehicles. They probably can’t go as fast as you want to go, but that doesn’t mean you should be on their tail, trying to get past as soon as possible. They can be long and wide, so build that into your pre-overtaking plan.

Sharing the road: animals
Expect to see dogs, horses, sheep, cows and other farmyard animals. They might be on the road because they’re being herded somewhere – or they might have escaped, making their behaviour entirely unpredictable.

Also expect wild animals. A deer, for example, is a heavy animal and could cause significant damage to the front of your car or your windscreen, following a high speed impact. If you see warning signs for animals, take them seriously. They’re there for a reason.

Sharing the road: cyclists and pedestrians
Cyclists, ramblers, and families out for a stroll are all possible on country lanes. Get into the habit of expecting to see someone on foot as you approach every bend or brow of a hill.

Sharing the road: tourists
Holidaymakers like country lanes. They like the views and the space. But they’re not going to be in any hurry. Be ready to follow a car towing a caravan at slow speeds, especially in summer.

Sharing the road: motorcyclists
Ask any recreational biker and he or she will happily recount details of a favourite road – without doubt a rural route somewhere, with challenging bends and great views. If there’s a motorcyclist behind you, don’t deliberately try to obstruct it if you know the rider wants to come past. Don’t be put off, either, if the rider is out in the middle of the road one moment, then tucked back towards the kerb a moment later. Riders are taught to position themselves to get the best forward view. Lastly, if you do see a motorcyclist approaching you (either in front or in your mirror), expect to see companions, as recreational bikers tend to ride together.

Here’s our guide for maximising safety on a rural road journey:
As we learnt on the motorway, always scan ahead to the furthest distance you can see. Use all the clues such as hedge lines and telegraph poles to tell you where the road is going.

Familiarity breeds contempt…
However familiar with a stretch of rural road you may be, don’t let it make your driving complacent. You can navigate the same bend 99 times and never meet something coming the other way, but that doesn’t mean all will be well on the 100th time. Anticipate hazards such as oncoming vehicles, animals (wild and domestic), cyclists, pedestrians, debris and poor road surfaces.

Who’s behind?
We’ve talked so far about different hazards and risks, including slow vehicles. It may well be that YOU’RE the slow vehicle, because you’re enjoying a gentle drive in the country. But do think of others, who may have other priorities. Check your mirrors frequently so you’re aware at an early stage of anyone lurking with obvious intent to overtake if they can.

Overtaking advice
A good overtake manoeuvre leaves nothing to chance. There’s no guesswork. You don’t even start overtaking until you have established exactly how and where the manoeuvre will end. Getting right up tight behind a slower vehicle won’t get you past it more quickly. In fact, by holding back you’ll get a much better view of the entire road and you’re more likely to see an opportunity to overtake safely.

Before you do overtake, make sure there’s no one lurking behind you who might decide he’s not going to wait for you to go by. Don’t go anywhere until you have made a mirror check and a physical glance into your blind spot.

Looking for clues
Scan and keep alert for warning signs for the likes of contractors, mud on road… or anything that might mean a change of conditions or unexpected hazard. On country lanes, mud might mean a tractor’s just round the corner. Or horse manure – if it’s steaming – probably means there’s a horse very close by.

Look for signs. Use the information they’re giving you. For example, if there’s a concealed entrance round the next bend, then expect someone to be coming out of it or going into it.
Painting the road is expensive, so it’s done for a reason. The more paint, the more danger. Again, use the information you get from seeing the road markings.

You can pick up clues from skid marks, too. They offer a pretty clear indication that someone else has previously come to grief, so use the information and don’t let the same thing happen to you.

Is there a minimum speed for a car towing a caravan on a country lane?
No, although the Highway Code makes clear you should not hold up a long queue of traffic if you are driving a large or slow-moving vehicle.

Is it OK to exceed the speed limit in order to overtake briskly and efficiently, as long as I return to within the speed limit when the manouevre is complete?
The best advice here is that, if you can’t overtake efficiently while staying within the legal speed limit, then you shouldn’t be overtaking. Some argue that the less time you spend on the ‘wrong side of the road’, the better, but no dispensation in law exists for temporarily exceeding the limit, I’m afraid.

What factors can affect my stopping distances on country roads?
First, the road surface may be poor or covered in mud, leaves, water, oil, ice – or a mix of all! Next, your own skills determine the time it takes you to react to a hazard. If you’re tired, or simply not expecting to take avoiding action, then you won’t be able to slow down or stop as quickly. Last, if you have defective tyres or worn brake pads, then this could affect your stopping distance on a country road, as on any other road surfaces.