If you think that most vehicle accidents are attributed to rush hour congestion, the deluge of pedestrians and too may vehicles on urban roads, you could not be more wrong! Those country roads are far more dangerous accounting for nearly 55% of all on-road fatalities.
The shocking part is that while in some states 90% of all highway accidents occur in rural areas, less than 20% of the US population lives in small towns and rural communities. In fact, a comparison of vehicle accident figures in urban areas vs. rural areas shows that the fatality rate on country roads is almost 2.4 times higher for every mile driven than on urban highways.
What makes rural highways and roads so dangerous?
There are a myriad of factors that contribute to the higher fatality rate on the roads of rural areas. For one, most drivers tend to get complacent under the assumption that country roads have fewer vehicles and almost no pedestrians. So, most tend to drive faster and without seat belts.
Add to this the fact that medical assistance takes longer to reach these remote locations and it becomes clear how an accident in a rural setting can quickly turn into a disastrous situation. Many road safety experts also believe that the outdated design of country highways means that there is very little room for error on these roads.
Moreover, you never know when a wild animal can come darting out into the traffic. Another thing to consider is that most of the lanes are narrower with blind curves and trees and ditches lining them, so the slightest swerve in the wrong direction can lead to a serious mishap.
To exacerbate the problem, rural highways are notorious for soft and damaged patches, steep inclines and weather related hazards that can make even an expert driver lose control over his vehicle. Unfortunately, accident victims on rural roads are seldom noticed till it’s too late and when help does arrive, hospitals are far and rarely equipped to handle serious trauma injuries.
What can you do to be safe on rural roads?
The wide expanse of land all around and the natural scenery often proves too distracting for drivers. Furthermore, opposite direction traffic is rarely separated on rural highways which increases the risk of head on collisions. So, here are a few tips that you must follow when driving through the countryside:
Navigation: Never rely entirely on navigation systems because they often fail to accurately portray rural roads. Also, it would be prudent to carry a good ol’ paper map as a backup.
Safety: Always wear your seat-belts. In fact, everybody in the vehicle, including back seat passengers should have their seat belts on. Fill the fuel tank before leaving populated areas and ensure that the spare tire is ready for use immediately. Also carry an emergency tool kit with a flash light and food and water along.
Speed: Do not go above the posted speed limit on country roads. Follow the golden rule that you should be able to stop within the distance that you can see ahead. If the road is narrow and there is no central white line, make that half the distance you can see ahead. Needless to say, you will also need to make speed adjustments bases on traffic and weather conditions.
The topography: Be particularly careful when traversing through damaged patches and hilly areas. The sharp curves on mountain roads often create blind spots. Frequently, these roads are also too narrow to accommodate two vehicles passing in opposite directions. In addition to this, prescribed agricultural and forest burning brings down visibility all of which can make for a dangerous situation.
Other vehicles: Slow moving farm vehicles are a common sight on rural roads along with trailers, trucks and other large automobiles. It is best to maintain a safe following distance from these vehicles. If you see a large vehicle coming head on at you, pull over to give it enough room to pass.
Road conditions: Country roads often have steep inclines or declines. When navigating these, shift to the lowest gear which will reduce the need for using brakes. Corrugations are common on country roads, watch for these because loose gravel and mud decrease traction between the tires and the road surface which can cause a sudden loss of control and skidding.
Weather: Always check the weather forecast for the area that you will be traveling through. Dust storms can significantly lower visibility while plunging temperatures can increase the risk of skidding as rural roads are not salted and plowed as often as urban highways.
Animals and more: The risk of collision with wild animals is the highest an hour before dawn and an hour after dusk when visibility is at its lowest. Of course, for all day or all night drivers, fatigue also plays a role in slowing the reflexes. Not only wild animals but even domestic animals are often seen loitering on country roads. Slow down and avoid sudden moves that will alarm the animal.
There are others with you: Remember that operators of farming vehicles such as tractors and harvesters often wear ear defenders, so they will not hear no matter how much you honk. Trying to overtake these vehicles at high speed can be a huge mistake. Get past them in a controlled manner because these vehicles are longer and wider than other automobiles, so it is easy to misjudge the amount of space that you will need.
Finally, keep your eyes wide open when driving through rural areas. Just because you have passed through a certain stretch of a rural highway several times does not mean there will be no surprises lurking for you on that road. Watch for signs like mud, manure and smoke which can tell you what lies ahead.