Tips for driving on rural roads

Navigating your way around the UK’s country roads can be daunting, even for the most experienced of motorists. Sharp bends, narrow lanes and the possibility of being stuck behind a tractor are all factors which need to be taken into consideration.

For this article, we spoke to bloggers who live and work in rural areas for their tips and advice on how to safely and confidently drive on country roads.

Drive at a sensible speed

Many country roads are narrow with blind corners, no pavements or cycle paths, which means drivers must take extra care and precautions for hazards including other road users, potholes and debris like mud.

On its website, Brake, the road safety charity, says while country roads may appear empty, they are shared spaces used by vulnerable road users including pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, farm vehicles and animals: “These factors mean that if a driver is going too fast they won't be able to react in time to people or hazards to prevent a crash. They also mean that if a driver is going too fast, they may lose control and end up in the path of an oncoming vehicle or running off the road.”

Hayley, who blogs at Devon Mama, told us there are several things to consider when driving on country roads: “Firstly, make sure you're going at a sensible speed, especially around corners. With narrow lanes and high hedges, it can be tricky to see oncoming traffic, animals or pedestrians so be prepared to stop at any moment. It's worth remembering that you may need to reverse to pass other cars so make sure you've got a clear line of vision through your boot space and make a mental note of passing spots as you go along so that you know whether or not it's feasible to reverse back.”

Rachel Bustin has lived in Cornwall all her life so is well-versed with driving on rural roads: “I learned to drive on quiet lanes and roads and I feel much safer driving these roads than the motorways. But, driving in rural areas with tight muddy lanes means you need to have your wits about you.

“Driving at a safe, consistent speed so you can keep an eye out for road signs signalling concealed tight corners, or animal crossings is a must to keep you safe. Be prepared for hazards. These can come upon you in seconds. Dog walkers, horse riders and cyclists, slow-moving tractors or a herd of cows meandering down the road are very common. To keep all road users safe, the best tip I can give is to slow down and drive for the conditions of that road.”

It is also worth remembering that if you see a church spire in the distance, you are most likely to be approaching a residential location, so be prepared to amend your driving to the appropriate speed.

Brake before the bend, not on it

The Brake Before the Bend, Not on It initiative was created by the UK government’s Think! road safety campaign. Think! Has been recognised internationally for its iconic campaigns which challenge dangerous driving.

The Brake Before the Bend, Not on It campaign was specifically created for motorists aged 25-34-years-old using country roads in the hope that drivers would anticipate the hazards that may life ahead and reduce their speed while approaching bends.

Devon and Cornwall Police have written about the Brake Before the Bend, Not On It campaign to educated motorists of safe manoeuvres on rural roads: "You can’t see the dangers that may lie behind a bend so it’s always best to slow down and give yourself time to react.”

Respect people and animals

Two people horse riding through a village

Motorists should be aware that many of the UK’s country roads and lanes have working fields and farms in proximity. Livestock, domestic and wild animals can be nearby, so it is important to drive respectfully as Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen explains: “Be courteous to animals. If you meet cattle or sheep being moved along a road or a horse coming towards you on the road, stop and turn off your engine. Wait until they have passed you and are some distance away before restarting your engine. Animals are frightened by car engines and maybe startled; this can cause them to jump into the nearest field or even to damage your car if they panic. If you drive up behind these animals, stay back until the animals are moved off the road or, if it is safe to pass, remember to pass slowly so as not to panic them.”

Breakdown recovery company, AA, says horses, in particular, are easily spooked, so it is imperative to approach with care: “There are 3.5 million regular riders and nearly a million horses in the UK according to the British Horse Society, so there’s a fair chance you’ll come across horses and riders on the road at some point.

“Responsible riders will try to avoid busy or fast roads and will wear high-visibility clothing, but driving carefully, particularly around bends on narrow roads, will help you spot horses and riders in time and react safely.”

If you do spot a rider, the AA suggests giving them a wide berth, at least a car’s width and pass slowly as well as avoiding reacting in ways which could scare the horse such as sounding your horn or revving your engine.

As well as being respectful to animals, Janice also advises being mindful of pedestrians: “Be courteous to people. Slow down if you are passing a walker on the road, even if they are standing into the grass verge as the ground can be uneven and they may feel vulnerable if you speed past. Be especially careful if there are children or dogs with them.” 

Be aware of your lane positioning

Some rural roads don’t have any markings to indicate where the middle of the road is. Midrive says extra precautions are needed: “If this is the case, you will need to be particularly careful when ensuring you stick to the left-hand side of the road. Bear in mind that large vehicles, like tractors or lorries, may be coming in the opposite direction and that you’ll need to be prepared to slow down and possibly stop should you come across a large vehicle coming the other way.”

Use your horn where appropriate

The Highway Code, which applies to England, Scotland and Wales, says that road users can use their horns while the vehicle is moving and drivers need to warn others of their presence.

Roz, who blogs at The Unplugged Parent, told us she uses her horn on blind corners to alert traffic coming the other way: “I know that we have become so used to using the horn in anger, when road rage gets the better of us - but actually, that’s not what it is there for. I have avoided crashes by using my horn on blind corners, warning a car coming the other way that I am there, ensuring my safety and theirs.

“On many country roads, drivers are so used to never meeting another vehicle that they become blasé, driving far too fast because they are certain they will be the only ones on the road. This is where using the horn when you can’t see around a corner proves useful.”

Be aware of aquaplaning and skidding

Car aquaplaning

Aquaplaning occurs when there is a build-up of water between a vehicle’s tyres and the surface of the road. Tyres can lose contact with the road, and the vehicle slides on a thin film of water. Safe Driving for Life explains: “It’s a particular risk when driving at speed in very wet weather. To avoid aquaplaning, keep your speed down and watch for water pooling on the road surface. Skidding is caused by a number of factors, but it’s more likely to happen on slippery road surfaces where there’s loose gravel, oil, or diesel, rain, ice or packed snow, wet mud or leaves”.

Since country roads are used by agricultural vehicles, there is a higher chance of manure, mud, leaves and oil accumulating on the surface. Being mindful of any debris and driving at an appropriate speed will minimise the risk of aquaplaning and skidding, which helps to keep yourself and other road users safe.

Heavy rainfall not only creates a risk for aquaplaning, but it also means that flooding is possible. Many country roads don’t have adequate (or any) drainage systems which means rural areas can become flooded quickly. NFU Mutual says: “Driving through floodwater should be avoided if possible, as it is difficult to determine the water’s depth and what debris might be under the surface.

“If you have no option other than to drive through floodwater, do so at a slow pace and be prepared to reverse out, should it become too deep. Always check your brakes after driving through deep water. If floodwater reaches the lower level of the doors, do not attempt to drive until a mechanic has looked at it.”

After driving on country roads it is advisable to wash your car with a good quality car shampoo to help remove dirt and grit. Number plates must also always be kept clean and free from dirt when driving so they are readable. Whether you have a new Ford car or a used Ford car, it is worth remembering that ordinary washing up liquid should be avoided as it can damage the vehicle’s paintwork.

Even if you are familiar with a country road, never take it for granted as conditions can be different every time you travel it. Driving safely and considerately will help to keep the country’s rural roads safe for all users.

The South West is blessed with stunning countryside, so why not book a test drive at your nearest Ford dealership soon and see for yourself how their latest models are designed to make your rural road dive as smooth as possible.