Rural Road Safety

More deaths occur on rural roads than on urban ones. In 2010, there were 1,046 fatal accidents on rural roads compared to over 572 on urban roads.1 The number of deaths on rural roads has also decreased at a slower rate than deaths on urban roads.

The number of serious and slight injury collisions is higher in urban areas; in 2010 there were 98,550 on urban roads and 49,264 on rural roads. These figures suggest that while the number of collisions is higher in urban areas there is a greater chance of a collision resulting in death on rural roads.

All Road Casualties, GB, 2011

    2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Rural Roads Killed






Serious Injuries






Slight Injuries






Urban Roads Killed






Serious Injuries






Slight Injuries






Motorways Killed






Serious Injuries






Slight Injuries






Surveys have shown that drivers, especially younger and inexperienced ones, on rural roads drive with less care than they do on urban roads, because they think it is safer to break the speed limit on rural roads and they believe these roads are safer because they are quieter. Unfortunately, they often do not realise that rural roads present many unforeseen hazards, such as blind bends, hidden dips, animals and mud on the road.


The difference in traffic and pedestrian volumes between rural and urban areas means that numbers of pedestrian accidents are higher in urban areas. However, the issue is no less serious in rural areas. In 2010, 135 pedestrians were killed on rural roads, 754 were seriously injured and 2,404 were slightly injured.

Rural roads are narrow and often have no pavement or crossing facilities. Child pedestrian casualties in rural areas are more likely to occur when children are walking along the road rather than crossing it. Only 26% of casualties occur within 20 metres of a junction. There are nearly twice as many child pedestrians hurt when walking with their back to traffic than walking facing on-coming traffic. By walking in the direction of oncoming traffic (as recommended by the Highway Code) a pedestrian is more likely to see the danger and take avoiding action by moving out of the way.

The lack of lighting may also be an important contributory factor in increasing the likelihood of a severe child injury in rural areas; 12% of child casualties occur in areas of darkness on rural roads compared to just 1% on urban roads. Again, there are less likely to be streetlights in rural areas. A good way of being seen is to always wear reflective strips and carry a torch when walking at night where there are no streetlights.


In 2010, 64 cyclists were killed on rural roads, 17 more than on urban roads, and 641 were seriously injured. The high number of deaths among cyclists suggests that cyclists involved in a collision on rural roads are more likely to die than their urban counter parts. A previous figures from 2005 showed that 16% of all child cyclist casualties occurred on rural roads, but half (50%) of deaths and one quarter (24%) of serious injuries to child cyclists were on rural roads. This indicates that when child cyclists are involved in accidents on rural roads, the injuries are more likely to be severe.

This is probably due to the nature of rural roads, which have more bends than their urban counterparts and have fewer cycle facilities to keep the children out of the flow of traffic, especially in areas where a cyclist is at higher risk such as bends and junctions. There is certainly a link between the speed at which a car travels and the severity of an accident; this is particularly relevant in a rural environment where the national speed limit applies over a wide area and also when speeds and speed limits change dramatically when passing through villages.

There is also a greater problem in rural areas of accidents happening close to driveways where vehicles pull out onto the road.

Car Users

The vast majority (80%) of car user deaths occur on rural roads, and in 2010 there were 686 car user fatalities. The pattern is similar for serious injuries, and in 2010 there were 5,837 serious injuries to car users in rural areas. This accounted for around two thirds of the total number of serious injuries to all car users in 2010. The nature of rural roads: narrow, bendy but with high speeds is a likely cause for the severity of collisions experienced.

The higher speeds on rural roads increase the chance that a crash will be fatal but there is also evidence that many children living in rural areas are less likely to wear a seatbelt for every journey and especially when the journey that they are taking is relatively short.


In 2010 292 motorcyclist deaths occurred on rural roads. This figure is over double the number of deaths in urban areas. Motorcycle safety on rural roads is a major concern that needs to be tackled. The high number of deaths could be related to the fact that most motorcyclists use rural roads for recreational/weekend driving and might lack sufficient knowledge of the roads. The most common types of motorcyclist crashes are:

Failure to negotiate bends on rural A roads
This tends to be the fault of the rider, often because s/he approaches the bend too fast and/or misjudges the bend. They occur more often on leisure rides.

Collision at junctions
This tends to be the fault of the other road user, usually a driver failed to see a rider who was in clear view. Most occur at T-junctions, crossroads and roundabouts.

Collision while overtaking
Usually the rider is at fault, although this also includes riders 'filtering' through stationary or slow moving traffic, in which a driver is more likely to be at fault.

Rider losing control without another vehicle being involved
This is more common on rural roads, and often due to rider error, excessive speed, alcohol, other impairment, careless/reckless behaviour, poor road surfaces or avoiding other road users.

Horse Riders

One activity more applicable to children in rural areas than urban ones is horse riding. There are around three million horse riders in Great Britain, many of whom ride on the road. Although they prefer not to do so, riders often have no choice because they need to reach to bridleways and other off road facilities. Horse riders have a right to use the road, and both riders and motorists are responsible for each other's safety.

Horses are powerful animals that are easily frightened and can panic, especially near fast-moving traffic or at sudden loud noises. Accurate statistics for road accidents involving horses are not available, but the British Horse Society estimates that there are 3,000 such accidents each year, about half of which occur on minor roads.


  • "Road Casualties Great Britain 2010", Department for Transport
  • "Accident Analysis on Rural Roads – A Technical Guide", TRL Ltd, 2004
  • "Rural Road Safety: A Literature Review", Scottish Executive Social Research, 2005
  • "Drivers Urged to Take Care on Rural Roads", DFT Think Road Safety Publicity campaign notes, 2005

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