RESPECTING rural roads can reduce the annual toll of fatalities and serious injury says the leading rural insurer, the Department for Transport and vulnerable road user groups

After analysis of official figures which showed the number of people killed on rural roads is two-thirds higher than on urban roads, the UK’s leading rural insurer, NFU Mutual, is today (December 1) launching a campaign designed to make rural roads safer for everyone.

The Respect Rural Roads campaign is supported by the Department for Transport (DfT), British Cycling and the British Horse Society and follows NFU Mutual’s analysis which found that nationally between 2018 and 2020, more people lost their lives on rural roads (3,115 fatalities) than on urban roads (1,880 fatalities). 

This is despite there being 36% fewer vehicles on a stretch of rural road (9,833 vehicles) than on an urban road (15,400 vehicles) in a 24-hour period.

During the same period, 29,371 people were seriously injured on rural roads compared to 41,359 on urban roads.

The pandemic lockdowns in 2020 markedly reduced the number of vehicles on Britain’s roads. There were 280.5bn vehicle miles travelled in 2020, compared to 356.5bn in 2019, a reduction of 21%. 

There may have been fewer vehicles on the road, but cycling trips increased to record levels according to the Department for Transport’s (DfT) data – up 26% compared to 2019. 

The average number of miles cycled was also up – 88 miles per person in 2020 from 54 miles in 2019.

Sadly, the cycling boom came at a cost. The number of cyclist fatalities on rural roads nationally was up 48% in 2020 (89 fatalities) compared to 2019 (60 fatalities) and 85% higher than the number recorded in 2018 (48 fatalities). 

The number of cyclist fatalities on urban roads nationally was also higher in 2020 (52) than in 2019 (40) and 2018 (51) and lower than on rural roads.

The number of cyclists seriously injured on rural roads also increased. The 1,141 recorded in 2020 was up 25% on 2019 (911) and 22% higher than 2018 (934). On urban roads there were 2,687 cyclists seriously injured in 2020, 2,746 in 2019 and 2,757 in 2018.

NFU Mutual commissioned its own independent research to find out what motorists think about safety on rural roads, and the experiences they have had when driving. 

The research found:

  • 15% of motorists living in rural areas had been involved in a collision on a rural road
  • 90% believe road users need to understand how to behave and what to expect on rural roads
  • 60% felt the main cause of collisions on rural roads was motorists going too fast with
  • 14% believe narrow roads are the main cause.

Motorists living in urban areas were also asked for their views and experiences on using rural roads. 

The research found:

  • 18% had been involved in a collision on a rural road
  • 88% felt rural road users needed to understand how to behave and what to expect on rural roads.
  • nearly 30% felt less confident about driving on rural roads and nearly 10% felt much less confident
  • 35% found negotiating narrow roads was the most challenging aspect of driving on rural roads, 
  • followed by drivers going too fast at 31%

Information designed to help rural roads users stay safe on rural roads can be found at:

The most vulnerable users of rural roads are motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians because they are more likely to be killed or seriously injured per mile travelled than car drivers and passengers.

The figures are taken from DfT Road Traffic Estimates 2019 and the Road Accident Report 2019. Pedestrian figures come from Statistical digest of Rural England 2019 and Defra Statistical Analysis of Rural Affairs.

Horse Riders are also vulnerable road users with more than 1 in 10 motorists who live in an urban area saying they find them the most challenging aspect of driving on rural roads. The DfT’s national casualty statistics for horse riders from 2018 to 2020 reveals how vulnerable they can be on rural roads:

DfT’s national casualty statistics for horse riders from 2018 to 2020

Proposals to amend The Highway Code to improve the safety of vulnerable road users are currently going through Parliament and are expected to come into effect in January 2022. It places greater responsibility on drivers for the safety of vulnerable road users, although as the DfT has explained, safety on the roads is a responsibility shared by all.

The rural road users that make up the highest number killed or seriously injured are car drivers and their passengers. Between 2018 and 2020, there were 1,649 fatalities and 16,055 serious injuries nationally on rural roads, compared to 469 fatalities and 9,929 serious injuries on urban roads.

Between 2018 and 2020, NFU Mutual dealt with more than 44,000 vehicle collisions involving customers living in rural and farming areas. The claims experts dealing with these incidents have shared the contributory factors they see when it comes to collisions in rural areas:  

  • vehicles are often travelling at high speed and collisions are head-on
  • a loss of control at tight bends due to excessive speed
  • are weather related such as icy roads and low glare from the sun.

Nick Turner, CEO of NFU Mutual said:

“People’s safety is our main priority and we want to make rural roads as risk free as possible for everyone to use. A safety-first approach will help reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries and we hope our campaign to respect rural roads will help people stay safe and enjoy rural roads.”

The Department for Transport is also supporting the Respect Rural Roads campaign. Roads Minister Baroness Vere said:

“Campaigns like this are vital to ensuring people take extra care when travelling on rural roads, where collisions are more likely to happen than in urban areas.

“Safety is a top priority for the government and we will continue taking action to reduce the risk of collisions across the road network, including through our award-winning THINK! campaign, which challenges the behaviours and habits of high-risk drivers.”

NFU Mutual’s campaign is also supported by vulnerable road user groups. Nick Chamberlin, Policy Manager, British Cycling said:

“The UK’s rural roads are one of our greatest assets. Thousands of miles of often ancient rights of way that criss-cross our country. Roads that connect rural communities to work and life, roads that enable millions of people to access the outdoors for their health and wellbeing. These precious rights of way have to be shared but it is vitally important that people cycling, walking or riding can enjoy them without fear.  We welcome this campaign and look forward to working towards making rural roads safer for everyone who uses them.”

Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety at The British Horse Society said:

“The BHS is dedicated to improving road safety for horse riders and other vulnerable road users. Through statistics we collated as part of our Dead Slow campaign, we know that equestrians experience high numbers of serious road incidents involving horses and vehicles. As the vast majority of these incidents occur on rural roads, we are pleased to support the NFU’s campaign to make rural roads safer for everyone and create awareness for all road users on this important issue.”

NFU Mutual believes the number of fatalities and serious injuries can be reduced on rural roads if everyone:

  1. Respects and understands the needs of all rural road users and makes safety their top priority
  2. Respects the hazards from the design and conditions on rural roads and behaves with caution
  3. Respects and follows the rules and advice on how to use rural roads safely to help reduce fatalities and injuries

NFU Mutual has the following guidance to help make everyone safer when they use rural roads:

  • Rural roads are often narrow, have tight bends and the national speed limit applies over many stretches.  Drivers should slow down and approach travelling on rural roads with great caution, particularly if they do most of their motoring in urban environments
  • Pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders are vulnerable road users.  Drivers and motorcyclists should slow down and give them plenty of space and only overtake when it is absolutely safe to do so.  Impatience can kill so if you are uncertain if it’s safe to overtake, don’t risk it, just wait
  • Motorcyclists and drivers should reduce their speed, often significantly, to safely negotiate tight bends and show considerable caution at junctions before pulling out
  • Cyclists should show caution and slow down at tight bends and watch out for poor road conditions including potholes and other problems caused by rain and ice which can make cycling more hazardous
  • Pedestrians, runners and recreational walkers should try and use the pavement whenever possible, but if being in the road is the only option, make sure you are facing oncoming traffic and it may be safer to cross well before a sharp right-hand bend so you can be seen more easily
  • Some safety challenges are more likely on rural roads than urban such as the presence of wild animals, a low setting sun and mud on the road which can freeze in the winter, so staying alert for unexpected risks is important
  • All rural road users should follow the legal requirements and rules of the Highway Code and understand how they apply to you and other rural road users.

Jade Devlin, Rural Roads Specialist for NFU Mutual said:

“Independent research commissioned by NFU Mutual reported that for 85% of people living in the countryside, rural road safety is an important issue for them. By raising awareness of the issue, we hope everyone using country roads will respect their unique hazards and dangers, and that our guidance will help people to put safety first.”