IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving & Riding Standards Richard Gladman offers sound safety advice for driving on narrow country lanes in part three of his expert driving tips.
The key piece of advice for driving on country roads is to remember the environment you are in.
And perhaps the second biggest piece of advice is, don’t swerve to miss animals or birds that might run or fly out in front of you…don’t kill yourself to save a rabbit: We’ve published this advice before and received a lot of push back – particularly from a lady who said what we’d essentially said was ‘kill the rabbit’. And actually, I 100% stand by that advice if it’s a choice between you, any other occupants of your car, and the rabbit.
However, wouldn’t it be better not to put ourselves in the situation where we had to make that choice and simply respect the countryside and the creatures that live in it?
Share the road
When you’re driving in the countryside you should of course expect rabbits and other wildlife, such as deer, to run out in front of you…if you drive around a corner and there’s a line of ducks crossing the road, none of us is heartless enough to want to run them over. So wouldn’t it be nice if when we came around the corner, we were driving slowly enough not to have to choose between the ducks and crashing the car?
Drive at a pace that allows you to share the road with its regular residents…one day that line of ducks is going to be a combine harvester…and that would hurt.
You should always be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear on your side of the road – and have a clear view of what’s on your side of the road. That’s part of road craft we teach people on our courses - but of course the word missing is ‘comfortably’.
When I was a police officer teaching trainee officers about driving to emergencies, I told them their stop didn’t need to look pretty, they just had to bring the car to a halt: At IAM RoadSmart, I tell members that not only do they have to stop, but stop comfortably, and it’s got to look pretty.
Look out for warning signs
And if you’re coming up behind a flock of sheep, or horses, you have to realise you’re going to be there for 20 minutes or so. It’s their environment – not yours – you have to be prepared to share. Slow down, take in all the information about what might be around the corner. UK roads are actually pretty good at that.
If there’s a warning sign about horses, someone has put it there for a reason. There might not necessarily be horses on the road at that moment, but perhaps a bridleway crosses close by, or there’s a riding school. The sign is saying ‘heighten your awareness to horses’. Similarly, if there’s a sign with a tractor on it, you know that somewhere close, a tractor or combined harvester will be coming onto to the road frequently.
If I see a church steeple in the distance, I don’t just think ‘oh there’s a lovely church’, I’m thinking ‘steeple, people’ and that I’m approaching a village and the speed limit is going to change. I’ll be thinking about it and ready for it.
But going through a small village at 30 mph is actually still quite fast, especially if there are chickens or ducks. Look out for hand-written signs. It might not be an official road sign, but someone has taken the time and trouble to create it and put it there. Use it to your advantage.
There are usually other indications that you need to be more vigilant. For instance, if there’s fresh horse dung in the road, you know the horse is close by. If that dung is flattened out, the horse was there earlier, and might be coming back.
If there’s one cyclist, you know it’s likely there will be more – they often ride in twos or more.
When it comes to a single-track roads, remember you should be able to stop in half the distance you can see. You can go quickly on the straight stretches but should be much slower on blind bends.
Look at the edges of the road. If they are broken up, you know that large vehicles, such as tractors have been there. Make a note of the passing places as you drive past them and be prepared to reverse to let a tractor or other farm machinery through.
To sum up: Share nicely; be prepared to stop in half the distance you can see – and put the word ‘comfortably’ in there. Take in all the information that’s there to help you drive safely on country roads and respect the fact that other people and animals live there.
If you feel you need further guidance or a confidence boost when driving on country roads check out our on-road module, driving on country roads