24 Things You Didn’t Know (or Forgot) About Safe Driving on Rural Roads!

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:

Photograph of two roadside memorials, on opposite sides of a rural road, and from two separate crashes.
Not one but two memorials, for two separate crashes on either side of this road at this one location in Illinois. (Photo copyright, 2012.)

  • 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;
Photograph of a double-trailer timber wagon, heavily loaded, on a narrow, twisty section of rural road.
Most drivers take scenarios like this far too simplistically. The only way to be assured of not having unpleasant outcomes is to always use a systematic and proven approach to one’s driving, and that is what we teach at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA]. (Photo copyright, 2018.)
  • 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, more dangerously, even horses or cattle — on the road.
Photo of a dead deer at the roadside, with cars approaching.
According to well-informed estimates, there are approximately 1.5 million deer-strike collisions in the 48 contiguous states of America each year. Learning correctly how to reduce the risk of having these collisions, together with what NOT to do if deer run in front of you, is extremely important, for your safety and your bank balance! (Photo copyright, 2014.)
  • 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;
Photograph of a large semi-tractor-trailer coming the other way on a gravel road.
If your team has to work in rural areas — as many of our clients personnel do — then amongst other things we teach safe driving on gravel roads, even if you meet a big truck like this coming the other way. (Photo copyright, 2007.)
  • Frequent lack of center lines and other pavement markings;
  • Inadequate number and/or condition of road/traffic signs;
Photograph of an incorrect curve sign and an adjacent deep ditch.
This ‘double curve’ sign in Iowa shows that the road bends first to the right, and then to the left, but as you can see, the opposite is the case. This is all well and good until there is bad weather, perhaps at night, and a driver is actually trying to use the signs as guidance. A little bit too much speed and a lethal run-off-the-road could ensue. And just look at that risky ditch! (Copyright image, 2010.)
  • Poor or non-existent road maintenance in snow or ice conditions;
  • Railroad crossings in rural areas frequently have no safety barriers;
Photograph of a pick-up truck being reversed out of the way of a passing train on a railroad crossing / grade crossing / level crossing in the USA
Railroad crossings on smaller rural roads in the USA frequently have no safety gates or barriers, and the danger is illustrated here by the fact that the pick-up truck in this picture is reversing back, out of the way of the train. (Copyright image, 2018.)
  • Distracted driving can include an additional risk, namely looking at the scenery rather than the road;
Photo of the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Malibu, California
The Pacific Coast Highway, north of Malibu, California (with a school bus and several cars in the distance). In places as attractive as this, drivers looking at the scenery can become yet another source of distracted driving. (Photo copyright, 2012.)
  • 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;
Three Porsches on a rural road.
Do you think these Porsche drivers were all being good with the gas pedal during their scenic drive? (Photo copyright, 2011.)
  • Similarly, many drivers assume the road will be empty and they take risks as a result;
Two trucks dangerously passing a slow-moving agricultural vehicle on a blind hillcrest and in contravention of solid center lines on the road.
Not one but two crazy truck drivers, dangerously overtaking a slow-moving agricultural vehicle on a blind hillcrest, and in contravention of the solid, yellow center lines. God help anyone who had been coming the other way! (Photo copyright, 2013.)
  • 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;
Photo of a driver crossing colid yellow center lines in order to pass a bicyclist on a rural road. (USA)
We advise you to ignore the new laws in some states that require only a three-foot gap when you are passing a bicyclist; three feet is often dangerously inadequate, especially with large vehicles or on faster roads such as this one. Think more in terms of a five-foot gap (roughly 1.5 meters) as an absolute minimum for genuine safety. If necessary, hold back and wait for a safe place to pass. Be sure you know your state’s laws regarding you crossing a solid yellow center line in order to pass a cyclist. (Photo copyright, 2014.)
  • 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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See also:   A Defensive Driving Course we Held on Rural Roads in Virginia

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

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