Drivers Fact Sheets

Safe Driving In The Countryside

When the sun is shining and the days are long, there is no better feeling than going for a pleasant drive in the countryside. You can enjoy driving your car within the legal limits on quiet uncongested roads taking in the fresh air and scenery.

It is fair to assume with fewer cars and pedestrians, driving in the countryside is safer than anywhere else. But it’s actually where you put yourself and any passengers at the biggest risk. Country roads account for over 70 per cent of road deaths, especially for the high risk group, males aged between 17 and 35.

Safe driving on country roads is all about interpreting situations and adapting your driving. In the main, country roads are narrower and have tighter bends than in built up areas, and visibility is much reduced.

A significant number of accidents are caused by tightening radius bends. Normally when you travel around a corner its radius stays relatively the same so once you have turned into the corner you very rarely have to increase the steering lock further. Tightening radius bends are different and require more steering lock the further into them you go.

A good illustration of this is when a car crashes because the driver did not properly reduce their speed or consider that the curve may change as the bend continues. Often a corner will change in the bend, tightening and thus requiring a lower speed.

The driver may attempt to correct for the speed by applying more pressure to the steering, tightening it up, but the speed is normally too high and the car begins to under- steer. The driver may try to fight this phenomenon by using the brakes, but this can cause the vehicle to hit an oncoming car or go into the ditch.

The countryside offers another challenge to drivers, especially in the summer. Since the bends can be quite tight it can be difficult to see the changes in the road. In the summer hedges, bushes, or trees can also obscure the curve. A driver can easily be caught by a sudden corner.

If you want to avoid being a statistic you will want to use visual cues. Before entering a curve make sure you are going the proper speed by braking or if need be changing the gears.

If you cannot see through the corner, look ahead for telegraph poles or lamp posts which are normally at the edge of the road and give advanced warning of the shape of the bend. If you are driving at night use the light from an on coming car’s headlight bulbs as a guide. Only enter a bend at a speed that allows you to stop safely on your side of the road within the distance you can see and avoid unbalancing a car mid corner by braking or changing gear.

Also, remember that scenic routes usually follow the curves of the land. When building urban roads, construction crews smooth the natural grade of the land for smoother safer driving, but this is not true of country roads. This means that you may experience prolonged periods of going up or down steep hills. When you need to slow down, avoid the temptation to ride on your brakes. They could overheat. Instead, slow yourself down by shifting to a lower gear.

On country roads there are other dangers waiting around a bend. Slow moving farm machinery can take up the whole width of the road and be difficult to overtake. Likewise a herd of livestock, such as cows crossing the road to go milking, is a common sight. Individual sheep can be anywhere on the road as you come round a bend.

Wild animals, especially deer are a dangerous hazard especially at night when they appear from nowhere. Pedestrians are also difficult to see on country roads at night.

As there is little if any external lighting, at night, country roads can get very dark. Use your high-beams if there is no other traffic around. Just don’t forget to turn them back down to low for oncoming traffic! Whenever traffic facing you is approximately 500 feet away, it’s time to turn to low beam. Likewise, turn your lights down whenever you have another car 200 feet or fewer in front of you. Driving is much easier when you can see the road in front of you.

Your speed is critical so be ready to adjust it and drive for the road conditions, whether there’s heavy traffic, mud on the road or bad weather. Always adjust your speed for every corner – if you’re driving at lower speeds, you’ve got more time to react to hazards. Remember that head on collisions are one of the main causes of fatalities on country roads.

Only overtake when you’re absolutely sure it’s safe – and not near bends, hidden dips, side roads or lay-bys where cars could pull out in front of you.

Make sure the road is absolutely clear and you can see a considerable distance ahead. When the terrain is hilly, blind summits can cause problems for the unsuspecting driver when overtaking.

With the roads winding so much, junctions are also dangerous places as visibility is restricted. Road surfaces on country roads can be far slippier than urban roads as water drainage is far less efficient and mud on the road is a common occurrence. It is all too easy to come quickly round a tight bend and be confronted by floodwater.

To sum up the main mistakes made while driving on rural roads are as follows:

  1. Excessive speed
  2. Dangerous overtaking
  3. Poor concentration
  4. Braking too hard

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