Twice as many highway deaths occur on rural roads, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Country roads are, thus, twice as dangerous as urban and suburban streets and highways. This fact is surprising to many people. They assume that less traffic and fewer distractions make rural roads safer. Other factors make these country roads far more dangerous.
Nearly 55 percent of all on-road fatalities occur on rural roads. In some counties, as much as 90 percent of all accidents occur on country roads. These numbers become startling when we remember that less than 20 percent of the U.S. population resides in small towns and rural areas. When vehicle crash statistics are compared for urban vs. rural areas, the data reveals that the fatality rate for rural crashes is nearly 2.4 times higher for every mile driven vs. on urban roads.
Why Rural Roads Are Dangerous
Many characteristics of rural roads make them particularly dangerous. In general terms, these country roads are not designed for high-speed travel. Common safety hazards include:
- Blind curves.
- Absence of signs.
- Unmarked farm and field entrances and driveways.
- Lack of accurate maps or lack of detailed information on GPS systems.
- Roads are narrow and not adequate for passing.
- No guard rails.
- Often, no shoulders.
- Soft surfaces: un-compacted dirt, gravel.
- Rough or uneven road surfaces.
- Damaged road surfaces.
- Other drivers entering or leaving the road at gas stations, restaurants, roadside stands, and the like.
- Unusually steep hills.
- Unusually sharp curves.
- Obstacles on the road: animals, slow-moving vehicles, oversized farm vehicles and equipment, debris.
- Rural roads are rarely (if ever) divided, which increases the risk of head-on collisions.
- Not only do most country roads lack shoulders, but those roads are often bounded by ditches.
- Not only is it common to see wild animals crossing country roads, but many drivers are not prepared to stop quickly when they come upon farm animals being herded across a road.
In addition to these characteristics, rural roads are often perceived by drivers to be safer than they are. Drivers often assume that the absence of pedestrians and other traffic makes these country roads less dangerous. In addition, large open fields, wooded areas, and other characteristics of the landscape can become quite distracting. Many drivers fail to monitor their driving speed carefully and gradually increase speed beyond safe levels. Contributing to the higher number of traffic fatalities in crashes on rural roads is the fact that many drivers believe they do not need to wear seat belts.
Two other particular problems on rural roads are highway hypnosis which may occur when driving for some time in areas that appear much the same. The “hypnosis” causes drivers to become drowsy, dulled or trance-like. It may cause them to drive faster than they realize. What is more, it reduces reaction time, making drivers too slow in reacting to a potential hazard, or it can cause drivers to fall asleep behind the wheel.
Further, if a wreck occurs on a country road, it typically takes significantly longer (than in cities or suburbs) for emergency assistance to arrive at the accident scene. This also means that it takes much longer for crash victims to reach a hospital, which often is not staffed or trained to treat major trauma. What is more, victims of single-vehicle crashes might not be noticed for some time.
If you spend much time driving on rural roads, please watch for our next blog post, which will offer guidelines and driving advice to help you be a safer driver on our dangerous rural roads. If you are unaccustomed to driving on rural roads, please read our follow-up post. We are rapidly approaching the time of year when many drivers will be driving country roads to soak up the beauty of fall in our area.
If you are injured in a vehicle crash on our rural roads through no fault of your own, please call us. Our attorneys have an outstanding record of winning personal injury and wrongful death cases involving accidents on all kinds of roads.