The A470, or what passes for the main north-south route in Wales.

The A470, or what passes for the main north-south route in Wales.

It’s official: driving down those lovely rural lanes is ten times worse for you than driving the country’s crowded M routes. In fact, the figures for last year reveal 100 deaths on Britain’s motorways and 1070 on country roads.

This may sound unbelievable, but not to anyone who has been driving these roads for the past 40 years, as I have. In that time I have seen drivers doing things that would make even William Hague’s meagre hair curl.

I will long remember the man who simply accelerated at my elderly Mini Traveller on a single track stretch of country lane, taking its wing mirror off (it would have been more but I was in a small car, which I managed to part-perch on a verge). I managed this tricky manoeuvre while being certain he would – he must – brake, but he didn’t.

He did, however, stop further down the road after the collision – I thought, to apologise, as I went to his car. Far from it – he was furious. He bellowed at me, as if this explained all: “I’ve been driving these roads for thirty years!”. My daughter, who was in the car with me, said tartly that in that case, there was no time like the present to start learning to do it properly then… But he drove off in his grand car, his spinning wheels creating an impressive cloud of dust as he accelerated back to motorway speeds.

Over the years, he’s been far from unique. I recall another lady tearing round a blind corner and nearly taking our car out as it sat at a junction a few yards further down. This was another single track road, and she, having gone round the bend like Lewis Hamilton on steroids, was shaving the hedge as she approached and very nearly took out the car bonnet.

Again, this was another driver who “knew” she was right. She wound down her electric window (why is it always posh car owners?) and delivered a lecture on how she was in the right because “I am on the main road and you shouldn’t be there”. Apparently, nobody was allowed to sit at a junction while she was speeding down “her” roads.

I’ve seen cars stuck in ditches and telegraph poles, after their owners failed to negotiate icy bends. I’ve flinched as a motorcyclist bounced off the side of our car after he failed to stop at a junction. I’ve had a friend thrown off a bicycle into a ditch by a speeding car – he ended up in hospital with a broken wrist and concussion (the car didn’t stop). Our current neighbour’s boy barely escaped with his life after a high-speed collision with a bus on a narrow road.

We were all lucky, from the looks of the statistics. It is clear that those driving down country roads have a lot to learn, and I have a few humble suggestions that might make these roads a safer place.

1. On country lanes the national speed limit sign is often displayed. This is NOT 70mph. The national speed limit varies depending on the type of road and vehicle. On motorways and dual carriageways, it is 70mph. On single carriageway roads, including all country lanes where this sign is seen, the national speed limit is 60mph. If you’re towing a trailer or caravan, it’s 50mph. A handy guide can be found at http://www.drivingtesttips.biz/speed-limit-uk.html
2. Even though the speed limit may be 60mph, that does not mean you have to drive at that speed. ROSPA research says inappropriate speed contributes to 14% of injury collisions, 15% of crashes resulting in a serious injury, and 24% of collisions that result in death. In poor weather, or poor visibility (as on roads with sharp bends), DROP YOUR SPEED.
3. Even when you are on a through route, keep an eye out for any junctions. Vehicles may have to move forward and encroach onto the through route just to see if there are oncoming vehicles. Also, speeding vehicles do not always notice that there is a junction.
4. A related point: don’t travel at a speed so great that you are likely to miss a junction. Remember that country roads were not designed by modern engineers, but were created by Romans, herders of sheep and cows, and folks taking their carts to market. Such routes can stop and start pretty randomly, and their details are not always well marked on maps.
5. Aha, I hear you say, but I have a sat-nav: be very careful when following instructions in rural areas. Often these will take you on the most direct route, but that may by no means be the safest. If in doubt, check a paper map to see if you’re being taken up an inappropriate short cut. If you want to know what one of those looks like, watch this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybzZP2FdiXs. That’s a short cut.
6. Keep your wits about you. If there are farms on your route, tractors can appear very suddenly. They can also appear from field entrances, and they rarely look or stop. They are definitely going to come off better in most accidents.
7. Herds of animals can also appear with very little warning. Farmers do move animals around by road, and it would be wise to adjust your speed to allow you time to stop before ploughing into a herd of cows, should one be round that next bend. In spring, lambs are also expert escapees and often manage to congregate on the road, having a little harmless fun – unless you are driving so fast you turn them into lamb chops prematurely.
8. In icy conditions, take bends on rural roads with extreme care. These roads may well have adverse cambers, due to their haphazard nature. Ice will also remain under stands of trees long after it has gone from clear stretches of road, so watch out for sections in the shade when it’s cold.
9. Watch out for other stuff on the road. It’s not just ice you need to think about – tractors often deposit mud, and animals deposit all sorts of other interesting things. If it’s wet, or you are flying round a bend, none of these substances will do anything for your traction.
10. Don’t just stop in the middle of the road. It’s amazing how many people stop dead to admire the view, or a cute baby animal. Check behind you before you hit the brakes. Think about whether another road user will be able to see you and stop before hitting you. If you really must stop, use a lay-by. If you break down, put your hazard lights on – push the car to safety if at all possible. But check the verge can take the car’s weight first, and that there’s not a deep ditch/gravel to trap you. Such things provide endless amusement for breakdown services.

Remember: don’t become a statistic! Let’s stay safe out there.

Advertisements