Country roads, take me home… in one piece, please!

John Denver had a deep love of the countryside – West Virginia, mountain momma, a night in the forest, and all that clobber. No doubt part of the attraction is that the traffic in the Blue Ridge Mountains is light, the highways are well maintained, and the drivers are both courteous and punctilious in obeying the rules of the road.
I was certainly looking forward to a change of pace and temperament when I left London four years ago for a life in rural Kent. I couldn’t wait to escape the perils and stresses of urban driving. After all, what could be better than trading in all that jostling for position and endless traffic jams for quiet country roads where there’s no rush to get anywhere? Oh how wrong I was.

In the country…

Country drivers are insane. They drive at speeds which wouldn’t be out of place in Formula One, overtake where there are blind corners, and take no account of common country hazards, such as animals on the road. Of course, it’s a bit of a generalisation to condemn all country drivers, but I have been genuinely staggered at just how dangerous some of the rural driving I’ve witnessed has been. Perhaps there’s something about roads being quieter that makes people think it’s safer for them to go faster. Country roads are also usually very familiar to the drivers who use them, which can lull them into a false sense of security that they are safe.

Dead reckoning

A hard-hitting new campaign from THINK! highlights just how hazardous country driving can be. Research from the road safety campaign group reveals that 60% of people killed on Britain’s roads die on country roads, with three people losing their lives each day on average. In fact, the number of people killed on country roads is nearly 11 times higher than on motorways, and one in 20 people has had a collision on a country road. Last year alone, there were 1,070 fatalities and 9,104 serious injuries on rural roads.

Trunk road

These shocking statistics make me very relieved that my only country accident so far has been reversing into a tree stump at the local station (ahem), but like most country drivers, there have definitely been a few near misses. Often these occur when something is slowing traffic down ahead. I’ve watched in horror as people in front of me have over-taken tractors at speed on blind bends, or have screeched to a halt suddenly when a rabbit runs in front of them. According to THINK! nearly one in two drivers on country roads have been surprised by an unexpected hazard, such as an animal, while a third confess to taking a bend too fast.

Stuck in a rut

Deer in particular can be a real problem on rural roads. The golden rule is that if one crosses in front of you, there will invariably be one or more following behind, which often catches motorists out.
Our neighbour recently wrote off his Mini following a collision with a deer which ran in front of him. He was very lucky to have escaped unscathed and admits that he was probably going too fast. Autumn is a time for particular care as this is when deer mate – the rutting season – and the males in particular combine aggression and recklessness (the chemical formula of testosterone), which can lead to them inadvertently leaping into the path of cars.

Rural rules

THINK! is urging country drivers to drive at a speed that allows them to stop in the distance they can see to be clear. It also advises motorists to give themselves time to react by braking before a bend, not on it, and to give cyclists and horse riders plenty of space when overtaking. As the campaign points out, the speed limit is just that – a limit, not a target. The national speed limit on single carriage roads is 60mph, but there will be times we all need to drive well under that in order to drive correctly for the conditions.

Capital moves

If the campaign to make country driving safer encourages even just a few motorists think more carefully about their rural driving habits, then I for one will be extremely relieved. Idyllic as country roads may look, they certainly aren’t free from idiots, and, the next time I’m driving in London, I’ll make sure I sit back and enjoy the traffic being at a standstill.

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