In this factsheet we will cover:

  • Why rural roads are dangerous for all road users
  • The most common types of collision that take place on rural roads
  • Speed limits on rural roads
  • Overtaking and other risky driving behaviours

Rural roads pose high risks, accounting for well over half of all fatal crashes. Cyclists, motorcyclists and car drivers are more than three times as likely to be killed per mile travelled on a rural road than an urban road.

Speed is often a major factor in rural road crashes. A study of single-carriageway rural roads estimated that a 10% increase in average speed results in a 30% increase in fatal and serious crashes.

The most common crash types on rural roads are collisions at intersections, head-on collisions and running off the road.

Every year
more than 1000
people die on rural roads in the UK

Why are rural roads so dangerous?

Many rural roads are narrow, with blind bends and brows and limited safe places to pass. They often don't have pavements or cycle paths, yet are frequently used by some of the most vulnerable road users such as people riding or walking.

Many rural roads have poor road surface conditions and limited or no crash protection (such as no crash barriers either at the side or in the middle of the road).

Traffic often includes vehicles travelling at a wide variety of speeds, including slow-moving farm vehicles. There may also be animals, spillages or tree branches in the carriageway.

Rural roads are dangerous for all road users

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Speed limits on rural roads

Most rural roads in the UK have a 60mph 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.

Rural roads frequently have debris such as mud and leaves on the road surface, meaning that in wet and icy conditions stopping distances are much greater. 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.

In a Brake and Direct Line survey, more than six in 10 (68%) of drivers said they feel it is acceptable to drive above the speed limit on rural roads. Nearly half (48%) of drivers said that they had driven faster than the speed limit on a single-carriageway rural road in the past year.

Slowing down is one of the most important things drivers can do to protect themselves and other road users on rural roads. This means always staying well within speed limits and slowing down on rural roads, particularly where there is poor visibility (e.g. at bends, brows and in bad weather) and avoiding overtaking unless absolutely necessary.
The Helpful Hazards campaign from Think! provides tips and advice on driving safely on country roads
References and further reading Down arrow icon to open accordion

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.