Rural Road Safety

More deaths occur on rural roads than on urban ones. In 2014, there were 982 fatal accidents on rural roads compared to 591 on urban roads.1

The number of serious and slight injury collisions is higher in urban areas; in 2014 there were 94,701 on urban roads and 44,418 on rural roads. These figures show that whilst the number of collisions is higher in urban areas there is a greater chance of dying on rural roads, with 59% of the fatalities occurring.

All Road Casualties, GB 2014 *

    2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Rural Roads Killed 1,046 1,081 941 991 982
Serious Injuries 8,010 8,017 7,806 7,644 8,189
Slight Injuries 40,308 38,204 36,829 35,493 36,229
Urban Roads Killed 572 624 616 520 591
Serious Injuries 11,762 12,359 12,549 11,436 11,892
Slight Injuries 86,216 85,370 81,215 77,179 82,809
Motorways Killed 113 92 80 97 85
Serious Injuries 668 610 546 544 595
Slight Injuries 5,719 5,117 4,989 4,756 4,950


Causation factors

Failed to look properly was the most frequently reported contributory factor irrespective of road type: 49% on urban, 34% rural and 33% on motorways.

Loss of control was more commonly recorded for fatal accidents on rural roads and motorways, 38% and 30% respectively. This is largely due to the higher speed on these roads and the more winding nature of rural roads.

Fourteen per cent of fatal accident on rural roads was allocated as travelling too fast for the conditions, compared to only 7% on urban roads.


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 2014, 140 pedestrians were killed on rural roads, 751 were seriously injured and 1,968 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 2014, 62 cyclists were killed on rural roads, compared to 51 on urban roads, and 991 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. This indicates that when 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 cyclists 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 are less cycle journeys made in rural areas compared to urban areas.

Car Users

Seventy two per cent of car user deaths occur on rural roads, and in 2014 there were 576 car user fatalities. The pattern is similar for serious injuries, and in 2014 there were 4,910 serious injuries to car users in rural areas. This accounted for 65% of the total number of serious injuries to all car users in 2014. The nature of rural roads: narrow, bendy but with high speeds is a likely cause for the severity of collisions experienced.


In 2014 237 motorcyclist fatalities occurred on rural roads, compared to 97 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.

(Data used in these calculations taken from RAS30018)

Horse Riders

One activity more applicable in rural areas than urban 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.


  1. "Road Casualties Great Britain 2014", Department for Transport
  2. "Accident Analysis on Rural Roads – A Technical Guide", TRL Ltd, 2004
  3. "Rural Road Safety: A Literature Review", Scottish Executive Social Research, 2005
  4. "Drivers Urged to Take Care on Rural Roads", DFT Think Road Safety Publicity campaign notes, 2005

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