The United Kingdom has a diverse road system, from four lane active motorways through to single track windy roads, and everything in between. Driving in different conditions and on a variety of road types brings with it different challenges, but is driving in rural areas more dangerous than in urban places? If it is, more importantly what can be done to reduce deaths and serious injuries caused by road traffic collisions in the countryside?
Numbers of accidents
It is no surprise to learn that more driving is done in urban areas, and hence there are more accidents in our towns and cities than elsewhere. However, whilst only 34% of road traffic accidents happen on rural roads, they account for 64% of fatalities. With motorcycles, 66% of fatal accidents occur on rural roads, with the figure being 68% for cars.
Research also shows that both the oldest and youngest drivers are most at risk on rural roads.
Improving road safety in the countryside
Given the figures above, can any steps be taken to reduce the number of tragic accidents leading to death or serious injury on roads in rural environments? Lots of different studies have been undertaken which shed some light on what could be done.
A Department for Transport study has shown that in some areas, simply reducing the speed limit from the national level of 60mph for single carriageways to 50mph brought about a 76% reduction in “Killed or Seriously Injured” accidents.
Similarly, rear facing average speed cameras are associated with significant reductions in speed and lower numbers of accidents – it seems that in rural areas, as with what is already known in urban areas, speed is a key factor leading to accidents causing injury or death.
It has also been shown that most rural accidents involve overtaking. Where overtaking lanes are provided, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of accidents.
However, whilst improving sight lines might have been thought to bring safety improvements, in fact some studies in rural areas have shown removal of vegetation and improving sight lines has resulted in higher speeds and numbers of collisions.
Of course, the speed of medical response to an injured person can determine whether someone can survive a car accident, and rural areas obviously have problems in ensuring speedy response. The National Safety Council produced research showing that, at least in part, the higher fatality figures on rural roads were related to the greater distance to hospital.
European research has shown that systems that detect a crash in a vehicle and automatically alert the emergency services have reduced fatality rates. If these systems become the norm, then hopefully the number of fatalities on our rural roads will reduce.
Every road traffic accident that causes serious injury or death is a personal tragedy. The research shows that these tragedies can be reduced through some relatively simple measures, like reducing speed limits, more safety cameras and in car technology. The number of fatalities on rural roads is unacceptably high, and we would call on the Department for Transport and Local Authorities to treat rural road safety as a priority