In developed countries around the world, it has long been known that rural roads are the location for far more deaths, measured against the total miles driven, than any other type of road or highway. And this is equally true in the U.S.A.
“Twenty-five percent of America’s road miles are driven on rural roads but this results, very disproportionately, in around fifty percent of all U.S. roadway fatalities.” — Eddie Wren, ADoNA.
There are several contributory reasons for this very serious situation:
- Narrow roads make it more likely that a vehicle will run off the road during a driver’s lack of concentration or other bad incident;
- Narrower roads can also make meeting big trucks more challenging and risky, too;
- A greater likelihood of ditches, streams or even just soft earth at the roadside (which can easily trigger a highly dangerous rollover);
- Similarly, larger drop-offs at the edge of the asphalt are more likely (and these too can easily trigger a highly dangerous rollover);
- A greater likelihood of blind curves or hillcrests (knolls);
- A greater likelihood of utility poles or trees too close to the road (which can be lethal);
- A greater likelihood of large animals such as deer — or even horses or cattle — on the road;
- Relatively poor condition of the road/pavement surface;
- A greater likelihood of poor drainage, so there can be standing water or even flooding;
- The possibility of gravel roads, for which the vast majority of drivers have simply never been trained at all, let alone trained correctly;
- Frequent lack of center lines and other pavement markings;
- Inadequate number and/or condition of road/traffic signs;
- Poor or non-existent road maintenance in snow or ice conditions;
- Railroad crossings in rural areas frequently have no safety barriers;
- Distracted driving can include an additional risk, namely looking at the scenery rather than the road;
- Complacency among local drivers;
- Very low levels of law enforcement;
- Drunk drivers use rural roads because of low policing;
- Many drivers go too fast on rural roads because of low policing;
- Similarly, many drivers assume the road will be empty and they take risks as a result;
- Slow or extremely large agricultural vehicles can be present at certain times of year;
- In some areas, horse-drawn buggies are present;
- Generally there are fewer pedestrians on rural roads but often zero facilities for pedestrian safety when any are present;
- Bicyclists may be present, sometimes in significant numbers where recreational cycling is popular, especially at weekends.
Remembering the fact that about half of all the people killed each year on America’s roads die on rural roads — meaning over 18,000 people out of the 37,000 overall — the dangers of driving on such roads is just one of scores of important safety topics that we cover on courses at Advanced Drivers of North America.
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