Driving safely in the countryside

Published: 14th May 2012
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Countryside driving is something many learner drivers will experience as part of their lessons and driving test. The British countryside is beautiful in the summertime and a country break can be a great recession-friendly holiday. On a summerís day, driving in the countryside can be a pleasure, but narrow roadways, wildlife and unexpected circumstances can make country driving a challenging experience. As a learner or new driver, itís worth getting as much experience of country driving as possible in preparation for the diversity of Ďreal lifeí driving experiences.

Drive at a sensible speed
The speed limit on many country roads is set as the national speed limit, this means that technically you can legally drive at up to 60 miles per hour but this is not necessarily always a safe speed. Itís especially important when driving in the countryside to use common sense to gauge safe driving speed. Remember that circular red-outlined speed limit signs and the national speed limit sign display the maximum legal speed limit, this should never be interpreted as a target. Does the road look safe enough to drive at a high speed? If youíre on a road which is potentially hazardous, take your situation into account before speeding up, if you feel safer and in control travelling at a lower speed, this is probably best practice. Remember that other drivers may not be so cautious when driving, donít allow yourself to be intimidated by tailgating on country roads. Continue to drive at a sensible speed, if you are being followed closely by an aggressive driver, find a safe place to pull over and allow them to safely pass.

Consider road width and road surface inconsistencies
Countryside roads can be significantly narrower than those in built up areas. You may find that you encounter single track roads which are only wide enough for one vehicle in some places, but still allow for traffic in both directions. Countryside roads can also have more bends and areas with reduced visibility than urban roads. Always reduce your speed before a bend, bear in mind that the road may narrow into the curve, so you may need to steer more than usual, slowing down will improve your control of the vehicle. Approach blind bends with caution and be prepared to face hazards just beyond the curve. Even if the lane is wide enough for two vehicles to pass side by side, remember that some slow moving farm machinery is wide enough to take up both lanes.

The surface of countryside roads can be inconsistent, containing potholes and varying surface textures, always drive carefully taking this into account. As always, wet and icy weather makes driving more hazardous, be aware that country roads may not have adequate drainage systems in place and could be more liable to flood. Organic materials such as mud and grass can also make road surfaces slippery while driving, so keep your speed slow and be careful when driving in adverse weather conditions.

Look out for walkers and wildlife
With many country roads much narrower than urban roads and less likely to have footpaths, itís especially important to be aware of pedestrians while driving in the countryside. The Highway Code advises pedestrians walking along roads without a footpath to keep to the right, so that they are facing oncoming traffic . While this is best practice, some walkers will not follow this advice. Remember that if a pedestrian is walking ahead of you on the left, they may not have heard your vehicle approaching. Drive slowly and cautiously leaving plenty of room as you pass, make sure your visibility is good and look out for oncoming vehicles.

When driving in the countryside, you are more likely to encounter animals on the carriageway. Look out for horse riders, keep your speed slow and patiently wait until there is plenty of space and good visibility ahead before overtaking. Do not use your horn or drive too close to the horse and rider, as this could startle the animal and cause an accident.

As country roads are usually surrounded by fields or woodland, wildlife is likely to occasionally stray onto the carriageway. Be aware that animals may appear unexpectedly on the road ahead, keep your speed slow and always check your mirrors for vehicles behind you before braking. Look out for red warning signs indicating that there may be large animals such as horses, deer or cattle nearby.

Driving in the countryside, you are likely to encounter roadkill. Look out for roadkill while youíre driving as carcasses on the road could be a potential hazard. Itís best to avoid touching roadkill, as you risk disease transmission . If you do need to move a dead animal out of your path for safety, always wear gloves and thoroughly wash your hands with soap afterwards.

Driving sensibly can help you to avoid accidentally hitting an animal, however sometimes animals will appear suddenly on the carriageway leaving you with no time to safely react. If you hit a wild animal and cannot safely stop your vehicle, best practice is to keep driving carefully. If you hit a large animal, such as a cow or sheep, contact the local police immediately to report the incident, itís likely in this instance that your vehicle will also be damaged and you may require breakdown assistance to resume your journey. If you are driving past farmland and hit livestock, itís a good idea to contact the farmer as well.

Occasionally, farmers may need to use countryside roads to shepherd cattle between fields. In this instance itís important to be patient, if cattle are passing in front of you and blocking the carriageway, stop your car, turn off the engine, switch on your hazard lights and wait until the animals have safely passed to resume driving.

Be careful driving at night
Many countryside roads do not have street lights, so you will need to use your headlights when driving at night. If there are no other motorists on the road, itís worth using full beam headlights to increase visibility. Always switch to dipped headlights when you encounter traffic to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers. If you are dazzled by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, slow down and if necessary stop. If there is a vehicle travelling behind you on an unlit country road and you need to slow down, always use your footbrake instead of just easing off the accelerator. This way, your brake lights will be visible to the vehicle behind you clearly signalling that you are slowing down.

Introductory driving lessons are available nationally from RED Driving School from £9 per hour.

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