Whilst many learner drivers don’t have to worry about driving on rural roads during their driving lessons, those who live in the country will have to get used to driving on winding roads where a whole host of new hazards exist.
Appropriate speeds for rural roads
When driving in residential areas through towns and cities, learner drivers generally have to stick to a 30-40mph speed limit. On many rural roads, however, there will be national speed limit signs signalling that the speed limit is 60mph. If the speed limit is less than 60mph, there will be signs to indicate what the speed limit is. Remember that this is the maximum speed limit, not a target! Rural roads tend to be winding and narrow, so you’ll need to consider what the appropriate speed for the road is.
It might take a bit of practice, but learning how to judge the speed of the road that you’re travelling on is crucial. Drive at a steady pace, ensuring you lift your foot off the accelerator as you approach bends in the road. You'll be able to anticipate how sharp a bend in the road will be by looking for any road signs as you approach it.
Remember, you must be able to stop within the space that you can see clearly ahead. Your stopping distance at 60mph will be around 73 metres (18 car lengths). This increases in wet or icy weather, so you need to be able to adapt your speed and distance between the vehicle in front depending on the conditions on the day.
Knowing what hazards to expect when driving on rural roads is also essential. This is something you’ll get a bit of practice on in the hazard perception part of your theory test, but you’ll need to be able to react to hazards in real life too.
The kind of hazards you’ll come across on rural roads will be different to the hazards you’ll experience in urban environments. On country roads you’ll need to be prepared to come across animals, walkers and, similarly to urban roads, cyclists. Because rural roads often have bends in them, you will need to be cautious when it comes to approaching them if you can’t see what’s around the corner. If, for example, you come across a cyclist around a bend, you need to be able to slow down or stop in enough time, without having to swerve on to the other side of the road.
Learning to anticipate hazards and to expect the unexpected is all part of becoming a defensive driver. To find out more about this, read our guide to defensive driving.
Slow moving vehicles
You’re also much more likely to come across slow moving vehicles when driving in a rural environment. Not only does this mean that you’ll have to anticipate meeting them ahead, but you’ll also have to be prepared to overtake.
Take a look at our guide to how to overtake safely for some tips and advice on how to get past vehicles and vulnerable road users safely.
Some rural roads will not have any markings to indicate where the centre of the road is. If this is the case, you will need to be particularly careful when ensuring you stick to the left hand side of the road. Bear in mind that large vehicles, like tractors or lorries, may be coming in the opposite direction, and that you’ll need to be prepared to slow down and possibly stop should you come across a large vehicle coming the other way.
Driving on rural roads at night
Driving on rural roads at night opens up even more challenges. It’s likely that there won’t be any street lights, so you’ll have to rely on using your dipped headlights and full beam lights to illuminate the road ahead.
Make sure you adjust your speed appropriately for the conditions, remembering that you should be able to stop in the space that you can see. There will also be more animals around when driving on rural roads at night, so you will also have to be prepared incase an animal runs into the road in front of you.
Image via Bob Jagendorf.