Escaping to the countryside is a great way to get away from it all. For those of us used to urban driving, driving on rural roads makes us think of driving into the sunset to a destination that leads to a peaceful experience.
However, this doesn't mean that we should pay less attention while on the road. Did you know that city driving tends to be safer than rural driving? In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the fatality rate is 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban ones.
Yeah, we were kind of surprised as well. But think about it, it makes sense. In urban areas the roads are normally paved, stop signs and traffic lights are abundant, on highways and freeways there's some sort of center barrier that helps reduce head-on collisions, plus speed limits are lower and more heavily enforced. Whereas in rural areas most, if not all, of these safety factors disappear.
So we've put together these tips for driving safely on rural roads, as this month's Mission: Remarkable is to go to a rural place. Follow these tips and increase your odds of arriving safely at your destination.
Just because there's little to no traffic doesn't mean you can speed all you want. Pay attention to speed limit signs. They may be greatly dispersed, but they're (usually) there. Rural roads are also interspersed with smaller towns, so expect speed limits to drop significantly as you enter one (by the way, now's a good time to decide if you need to refill your gas tank – fuel stations may be unavailable for long distances and it will likely cost an arm and a leg to get towed back into town).
With that said, rural roads can have sharp bends and blind curves, unexpected hazards, railway crossings, and changing conditions that may catch you off guard. It’s more important to let your speed be determined by the specific conditions and whether you feel in control, not simply by a limit.
Your GPS and navigation apps are very useful. They can tell you what's up ahead, where to turn, what to look out for, etc. However, there is a downside (which can also be an upside) to being in a more remote location: the possibility of having poor to no GPS/phone connectivity. Fret not, simply download the maps you're going to need ahead of time, or opt to go old school and actually bring some physical maps that are up-to-date.
When driving on rural roadways, stay alert for rapidly changing roadway conditions such as water, mud, ice, or even leaves which can become very slippery when wet. Some rural roads aren't in the greatest shape and are not well-maintained, so be extra careful on unpaved roads, potholes, fallen trees and branches, and areas with patches of mud or diesel from farm vehicles.
At night, it can become pitch black out there, so make sure your high beams work. You don't want to end up upside-down in a ditch in the middle of nowhere. It can be nice to set the cruise control and enjoy the open road, but make sure you stay alert for rapidly changing conditions.
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The open road will tend to make you put your guard down more compared to being in high traffic. Don't let it. Some drivers are likely to be fatigued, some may be intoxicated. Lack of situational awareness on rural roads can lead to deadly accidents that occur at high speeds. What's worse, if you do get into an accident there is less likelihood of someone knowing an accident has happened. If you are able to call for rescue, the wait time can be significantly longer than in urban locations. If you're off-the-grid, even longer.
And please, never strike out on your own at night – it's almost always safer to wait until the sun comes up. Be sure you have extra gas, a spare tire and jack, and an emergency kit that includes at least a charger for your phone, flashlight, first aid kit, tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, emergency reflectors, and windshield wiper fluid. Bonus points for drinking water, snacks, blankets, and medication you might need!
Pass slower vehicles with caution. If there are both solid and dashed yellow lines between lanes, you may pass only if the dashed yellow line is on your side. Be absolutely sure the road ahead is clear and there are no bends coming up. If you decide to pass a larger, slower vehicle, such as a tractor, slow down and give some distance. This should allow you to see around the equipment so that you can carefully pass it. You don't want to pull out and be faced by oncoming traffic that was blocked from your view by the larger vehicle.
Fortunately, farm vehicles tend to move over to let you pass and if they don't, they usually don't have very far to travel. If there's a caravan of cars and trucks ahead of you, though, don't try any risky overtaking maneuvers. Our advice is to stay patient and stay safe. We want you to get to your destination in one piece.
If passing lanes/opportunities are scarce, be careful not to tailgate the car ahead of you. Not only is tailgating rude behavior, it’s also extremely dangerous and leads to thousands of traffic accidents each year. Not to mention, your car could become damaged from flying rocks, or your visibility might be obscured by flying dust.
If you are being tailgated or a vehicle behind you wishes to pass and you are content with your current speed, take the "high road" (pun intended) and swallow your pride by pulling over. Turn on your right turn signal, move over slowly, and let them pass. If they're decent individuals, they'll thank you by giving you a friendly wave and a smile.
Be prepared to slow down or stop suddenly when animals are on the road. Give the animals plenty of space and let them pass. Pay attention to deer or wild animal signs especially in late spring and early autumn. If you find yourself unable to stop when coming up on an animal crossing the road, it's best not to swerve to avoid hitting the animal — keep driving, and stay in your lane if possible. You don't want to lose control of your vehicle.
Bridges are the first to freeze when the temperature drops. This is because they are exposed to the air above, below, and on all sides – causing frost to form there before the rest of the roadway. You'll likely see a "Watch for ice on bridge" or a "Bridge freezes before road" yellow diamond sign. This is a reminder to slow down whenever the weather requires it.
When driving on rural roads take it easy, but still be alert. You've got someplace relaxing to go, and arriving at your destination an hour or so later is better than becoming another road statistic. You're more likely to enjoy the beautiful scenery when you're traveling carefully anyway, so drive at a safe pace where you can take it all in.
We hope this helps!
P.S. Got tips of your own? You're welcome to add your 2 cents in the comments below!
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