Speed on country roads

More than half (51%) of fatal crashes in Britain occur on country roads [1]. Per mile travelled, country roads are the most dangerous roads for all kinds of road user [2]:

  • Car occupants are twice as likely to be killed on a country road than an urban road.
  • Motorcyclists are more than twice as likely to be killed on a country road than an urban road.
  • Cyclists are almost three times more likely to be killed on a country road than an urban road.

Rural roads

Speed is a major factor in country road crashes [3]. A study of country single-carriageway roads estimated that a 10% increase in average speed results in a 30% increase in fatal and serious crashes [4]. The most common crash types on country roads are collisions at intersections, head-on collisions and running off the road [5] – these are all related to excessive speed.

While country roads can initially appear empty, they are shared spaces used by vulnerable road users including pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders, as well as slow moving farm vehicles, livestock, wild animals, and large vehicles such as buses and quarry vehicles.

Take action: Support Brake’s Pace for people campaign for slower speeds on country roads, and better walking and cycling routes in rural areas.

Speed limits on country roads

Most country roads in the UK have a 60mph (97km/h) limit. However, due to their use by vulnerable road users and the design and condition of many country roads, 60mph (or anywhere near it) is rarely a safe speed to travel.

Many country roads are narrow, with blind bends, and no pavements or cycle paths. They frequently have pot holes and debris such as fallen branches, and suffer from wet and icy conditions, meaning it takes far longer to stop. These factors mean that if a driver is going too fast they won't be able to react in time to people or hazards to prevent a crash. They also mean that if a driver is going too fast they may lose control and end up in the path of an oncoming vehicle or running off the road.

At 60mph, a driver's stopping distance is 73 metres, or about three tennis courts. This means if a hazard suddenly appears within this distance, as is common on country roads, the driver would have no chance of stopping in time. Speeds under 40mph are far more appropriate for these roads.

Worryingly, a Brake and Digby Brown survey found that one in three drivers (33%) admit driving too fast for safety on country roads, and one in five (19%) admit breaking speed limits on country roads within the past year. Four in 10 (37%) have had a near-miss on country roads, while driving, walking or cycling. However, four in five (80%) think traffic is too fast for safety on some or most country roads, and seven in 10 (72%) support slower speed limits (50, 40 or 30mph) on country roads [6].

Learn more: Read our fact page on speed and stopping distances.

Overtaking

Overtaking on single carriageway roads is one of the most dangerous manoeuvres drivers can perform – and is usually unnecessary. Overtaking is dangerous because is impossible to accurately judge the speed and distance of approaching traffic. This lack of judgement can easily be fatal when travelling at speed on the wrong side of the road. If two vehicles headed towards each other are both travelling at 60mph the gap between decreases by about 60 metres every second.

It is therefore incredibly dangerous to overtake on country roads, where there will rarely be enough straight, visible road ahead to be certain that nothing is coming in the opposite direction. It is also pointless: if you are travelling at 55mph, and you overtake someone doing 50mph, and you have ten miles left of your journey, you’ll only arrive one minute faster than if you’d stayed behind the slower vehicle. However, in reality you wouldn’t even save this much time, as you would still need to slow down for bends, junctions, other traffic, and if entering lower speed limits. Brake advises overtaking should be avoided at all costs.

Learn more: Read our advice for drivers on staying slow and safe.

More information 


[1] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2016, Department for Transport, 2017, table RAS30006

[2] Reported Road Casualties Great Britain 2016, Department for Transport, 2017, table RAS30006

[3] Rural roads, Road Safety Observatory, 2013

[4] The Relationship between Speed and Accidents on Rural Single-carriageway Roads, Transport Research Laboratory, 2002

[5] Rural Road Safety: A Literature Review, Scottish Executive Social Research, 2005

[6] Drivers urged: don't treat country roads like racetracks this summer, Brake and Digby Brown, 2014


Page last updated: November 2017