Apr 12, 2023

What Is A Rural Road


It is frustrating to road safety practitioners who are doing their best to reduce the number of casualties on the road when we get evidence of where the need is but we do nothing about it. This is very true of what we know and have done so for many years about the number of people losing their lives on rural roads.

Government statistics show that of the 1,558 road deaths in Britain in 2021, 981 (63%) were listed as occurring on rural roads – that is; outside of a town or city. However, 649 of these deaths took place not on the twisting country lanes typically associated with being a rural route, but on motorways (86 deaths) and A roads (563 deaths).

So we need first a much better understanding of what exactly a ‘rural road’ is and a recent study for the RAC Foundation, carried out by Agilysis, has taken the first steps in breaking down rural roads into several subcategories so that crashes can be better understood, and money better spent to reduce crashes and mitigate their effects when they do occur.

The researchers decided on a range of road characteristics to meaningfully divide rural roads, including: width, traffic flow, traffic type, speed limit, gradient, markings and location. They then compared and contrasted the characteristics of a sample group of 483 sections of rural roads (not including motorways) which measured 1,563km in total. The routes were also appraised by a highway engineer.

Following this the study team identified four main categories of rural road:

➢ Principal roads – generally wide, fast moving and flat, sometimes dual carriageway, often close to populated areas

➢ Country roads – narrower, sometimes undulating, single-carriageway with moderate traffic levels

➢ Neighbourhood roads – through rural communities

➢ Winding roads – narrow single carriageways, mostly unclassified and sometimes single track, generally low speed and with little traffic

These four categories were then further divided to give a total of ten separate, identifiable types of rural road varying from the busiest and fastest dual carriageways all the way through to hill passes and remote roads.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“The question may seem simple: ‘what is a rural road?’ The answer turns out to be more complex than you might think when interpreting road safety statistics. This report suggests there are at least ten types of ‘rural’ road with specific characteristics, and the only thing they have in common is that they run outside our big towns and cities. The risk is that the catch-all term ‘rural road’ has hidden a multitude of different highway types, each of which poses its own range of road safety challenges. The better we understand our roads and the risks users face on them, the better targeted our decisions on when and where to spend money will be. New, standardised categories would allow the dozens of police forces, hundreds of councils and any number of road safety professionals to use a common terminology to compare experiences and deploy those interventions most likely to reduce risk.”

Taken From Traffic Roads Safety