Rural roads look so open and inviting to the driver who loves traveling fast; no obstructions, a scenic route, and hardly any other traffic can all tempt you to put your foot down on the gas pedal, relax, and enjoy the ride. However, driving on rural roads can actually be significantly more dangerous than traveling on city streets.
It seems like most of my driver’s ed students are nervous when they first drive on city streets, but wide open two-lane roads in the middle of nowhere puts them at ease. While this mentality is certainly understandable, driving on rural roads poses some very extreme dangers that you don’t get in city driving conditions.
1. Rural Roads Lack Safety Barriers
Most highways and expressways have some sort of center barrier which greatly reduces one of the most dangerous types of traffic accidents. That type of accident being a head-on collision.
Head on collisions happen for a multitude of reasons from distracted driving to drunk driving to fatigued driving and more. All it takes is a split second for someone to come into your lane without warning. Always plan your escape routes and expect the unexpected.
2. Rural Roads Have Lots Of Varying Surfaces
Undulating and pot-holed surfaces combined with a patch of mud or diesel from farm vehicles can send your vehicle straight into the ditch. Driving on rural roadways means being alert for rapidly changing roadway conditions such as water, mud, ice, or even leaves which can become very slippery when wet. While vehicles have crumple zones to soften impacts, trees and ditches obviously lack such safety features, making it even more crucial that you pay attention to these dangers when driving on rural roads.
3. Rural Roads Have An Element Of Surprise
While surprising and sudden hazards can occur anywhere and on any roadway, this is a huge concern for driving on rural roads. Many rural roads go through areas with a lot of animals from wild animals to farm animals. They also contain unique vehicles like slow moving tractors, trucks, and farm equipment. It can be nice to set the cruise control and enjoy the open road, but make sure you stay alert for rapidly changing conditions!
4. Rural Roads Have Countryside Specific Obstructions
The countryside holds hazards less present in urban areas, and you could encounter any of them on your late-night jaunt. Crossing cows and horses, heavy goods vehicles with tired drivers, farm vehicles driving slowly and carrying gas canisters, fallen trees and branches, and railway crossings can suddenly seem to appear from nowhere. In a collision with a tractor or a train, you probably won’t escape to drive again. In high winds and poor weather conditions, falling trees or mudslides could be around the next bend.
5. Rural Roads Have Lots Of Rogue Drivers
Densely populated areas have conveniences for people such as cabs, Uber, and a large police presence keeping bad drivers in check. But on rural roadways, these checks and balances are often not there. That means, you will encounter far more drunk drivers, fatigued drivers, and just hazardous drivers in general. Being tailgated is also more common when driving on rural roadways since passing lanes can be scarse.
6. Rural Roads Can Have Big Temperature Swings
Driving on country roads on winter nights, you’re more likely to encounter unexpected ice and rolling mist due to the temperature fluctuations on an undulating road and near streams and rivers. Many rural lanes are also ‘unadopted’, meaning they receive no maintenance attention such as snow removal or salting roads. In the daylight, you’ll probably notice the patches of ice (but not always!). At night, it all looks densely black and the first thing you’ll know is when your car’s upside-down in a ditch and you’re hanging from your seatbelt with an exploded airbag in front of you.
7. Rural Roads Have Drivers With Low Situational Awareness
People driving on rural roads don’t pay as much attention as they do during congested traffic conditions. This lack of situational awareness can lead to very nasty accidents that occur at high speeds. Further, the chance of someone knowing an accident has happened is markedly lower than in suburban areas; houses are few, and the hours of darkness and icy weather keep rural residents off the roads. In addition, country homes are often set well back from the lanes so even if you crashed relatively close to a house, they might be too far away to hear the accident so you’re also more likely to suffer potentially fatal hypothermia as you await rescue.
8. Rural Roads Have Areas That Are Difficult Access
If you’ve been forced off-road, the emergency services will have to fight their way across terrain or locate a suitable landing place for a rescue helicopter, which could end up being thirty minutes’ walk from where your accident occurred. Also, if you crashed in a narrow lane, how will the fire service’s wide-bodied vehicle get down it to help extract you?
9. Rural Roads Have Poor Cell Reception
Beleive it or not, much of the United States still does not have cell phone service in rural areas. You’re reliant upon being spotted by a passing motorist, and that could take many hours if you really went off-the-grid in your car. Even when someone discovers the scene of your accident, they’ll possibly need to drive away to find a phone signal.
10. Rural Roads Have Unique Terrain To Navigate
Along with country locations come steep drops, poorly-maintained road edgings and insubstantial fences that are all insufficient to keep a skidding car on the lanes. Down an embankment, nobody can even see you were there.
So, with all this in mind, take it easy when driving on rural roads; arriving 20 minutes later and safely is a better idea than becoming another rural road death statistic. Besides, the countryside looks far more beautiful when you travel carefully and at a pace to take it all in.