After a long, ambling drive through deepest rural Surrey (well, as rural as Surrey gets) yesterday, I felt compelled to write a slightly cathartic but hopefully helpful thing about rural road etiquette. I’ve seen too many people in flashy vehicles tearing around tiny rural lanes lately. I’m irked.
I find that most local drivers in very rural areas of the UK (think Exmoor, South Shropshire, and the like) are generally sensible, sane people on the road. Most of them are, in all fairness, more in touch with the ways of modern rural life. So perhaps I ought to cut the middle class townies of Southeast England some slack, and advise gently instead of berate.
Surrey is a hotchpotch of a county, being one of those we call the ‘home counties’, nestled feverishly underneath London’s crotch. The most wooded in England, interspersed with arable and livestock farming, spattered with large urban and suburban settlements bustling with all sorts of people, from the nouveau riche to working class yokels(!) like me.
This modern, busy juxtaposition brings with it some hair raising encounters on our rural roads, high numbers of road traffic incidents, and frayed tempers; all in my opinion, totally unnecessary. So without further ado, here is a hopefully helpful, well balanced – mildly sardonic – guide to driving on rural roads, by one exasperated urban fringe rural woman.
(Warning: this guide is written in highly ‘agricultural’ language. Look away now if you’re a wet lettuce of a person.)
Disclaimer: most of this shit just boils down to one thing; SLOW DOWN, KEEP YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU and simply CO-OPERATE with all other roads users.
- Always give way to other vehicles. Narrow roads are often single track, so make use of two things; passing places and your car horn. Use your horn for what it is actually meant for – letting other vehicle users know you’re in the vicinity. Your car horn is not for getting aggro with other road users when you’re pissed off with them, nor is it for flagging your mate’s attention when you spot them on their way to Tesco. Obviously don’t slam your fist on the beeper and scare the shit out of local farm cats; just a light tap on the horn will let unseen, oncoming cars know you’re nearby, so they can use a passing place if there’s one there. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for other cars coming; don’t have your music too loud. You’re in Bedfordshire, not the Balearics. My parents taught me this stuff when I was six, for goodness’ sake.
- Don’t be snitty about tractors and other agricultural machinery/vehicles on the road. Most of them do no more than 25mph; if they went any fucking faster they’d tip over. Any of us who you see driving a tractor on a public road know what we’re doing, so trust us and don’t drive like a prick near us. No cutting us up, no driving too close. Be patient. We are obliged to pull in WHERE POSSIBLE to let a queue of other vehicles past. If there is nowhere for us to pull in to let you pass, get over it, there’s nothing we can do.
- Slow the fuck down on minor roads and country lanes. This point covers multiple road users. You should drive carefully anywhere, it goes without saying, but this is especially pertinent on rural roads. More people die on rural roads than on A roads and motorways, in part because people get complacent, thinking rural and agricultural areas are sleepy, quiet places, where there are barely any vehicles around. But there are hazards everywhere, around every bend. I mentioned tractors and suchlike on the previous point, so revisiting that; there is potentially agricultural plant/machinery around every corner, and you do not want your corsa getting into a fight with a John Deere monster. You’ll hurt yourself, and the tractor operator. At the other end of the spectrum, there are hikers on rural lanes, and it goes without saying they are incredibly vulnerable road users, along with cyclists. In fact I will make a separate point dedicated entirely to cyclists….keep reading. On another note, the roads through woodland especially can be very winding with multiple blind spots and you don’t know what other idiot is coming around the corner taking up both sides of the road, high on the fresh air of the country. (Townies suddenly released into open spaces can be like dogs suddenly let off the lead.) People (including children) on horses emerge from bridleways onto the roads, and horses are not vehicles – they are animals, so they can be unpredictable.
- On the previous note; horses still use the roads. Get over it. It might seem old fashioned, but horses are part of life in the UK whatever your beliefs about racing, horse riding, hunting or any other horsey things are. They exist in working class cultures, middle class cultures, sports, and traveller cultures alike. Horses are here to stay, probably. So stop fucking whingeing about horse shit on the roads. It is NOT the same as dogshit; it is not the same biohazard and does not have a stomach turning smell, like carnivore cack does. It all crumbles away fairly quickly, besides. So untwist your knickers; you won’t skid in it – not if you drive sensibly anyway.
- Another equine note; If you must drive a flashy, sporty car around narrow winding woodland lanes (think of those around Abinger and Leith Hill), stay sensible, keep your bloody wits about you and have your music turned down and slow the fuck down when you see/hear horses anywhere remotely near you. It is the height of arseholery to go haring past horses with drum ‘n’ bass blaring from your audi. GO PAST WIDE, SLOW AND QUIETLY, at the safest opportunity. Most people who put horses on the road do so with a lot of due care and attention; but at some point any horse is new to the road. And again, refer back to that thing about any animal being unpredictable.
- Leading on from horses; other ‘domesticated’ animals on the road; be patient! In ‘proper’ rural areas of the UK, sheep are moved between land parcels via stretches of road. That’s just the way it works, over short distances. Don’t be a knob and get impatient. Nothing is so important that you – in your daily driving life – need to act like a prick over a flock of sheep ambling along a quiet rural road on their way to their next pasture.
- Other animals on roads; the wild varieties. Because our wild animals in the UK are generally small and benign, our rural roads aren’t fenced for mile upon mile like they are in say, Montana or Wyoming. (In THAT part of the world, they have to be, in order to protect both wild animals themselves, as well as motorists. If an elk hits your car along the freeway… it doesn’t bear thinking about, for both parties.) Driving carefully on rural roads of course extends to respecting wild animals. Us humans are only one species that live on the earth, and we take up so much fucking space with all our stuff as it is. Anyway I digress… the animals which are likely to be an accident risk in the event of a collision are badgers and deer. Badgers vary in size but a large male can be a hefty, stocky beast. Deer, usually roe deer in certain parts of the country where there are high numbers of them, can often leap across roads individually or in groups of two or three very suddenly, and that can be horrific for both animal AND driver. If you hit any animal with your car, please don’t beat yourself up about it if it wasn’t deliberate. Yes it is horrendously sad and upsetting, but it is often unavoidable, even when we are the most sensible drivers on the road. DO NOT attempt to rescue an RTA injured animal, unless you are an actual wildlife rescue specialist. You risk worsening the injury of the animal, causing it more stress, and injuring yourself very badly. It’s always handy to have the phone numbers of local wildlife rescue centres in your car if you drive on rural roads a lot. If you need to phone a rescue centre, only do so once you have found somewhere to safely park your car. Google is your friend. Owls and woodcock are often victims of RTAS, as well as the usual rabbits, pheasants and foxes.
- Coming back to cyclists. Cycling in the countryside has risks, but is good for people’s health and good for the planet. Don’t fucking get angry and resentful of cyclists being on the roads, they’re doing a good thing. Yes, they should abide by the highway code and be considerate too. It goes without saying. But as a road user, you can do a lot to keep them safe. Don’t be in a hurry to overtake them. Don’t try and overtake them at bends, blind summits, or anywhere it isn’t toally 100% crystal clear. Don’t be rude to them and swear at them out of your car window, like a coward. When you overtake a cyclist, bear in mind how wide you go past them. Overtaking only narrowly with a couple of feet to spare is not wise because if a bike topples at the same moment you are overtaking, which way does said bike usually go? Sideways. Think about the mathematics of that. And that is also why you should only overtake when the road is totally clear way ahead; so you can allow the cyclist safe space.
- Moving radically on from other people and animals; fuelling your car. This I feel is a slightly silly point, but maybe one some take for granted. Keep your tank full of fuel, and don’t play that silly game of “oh, I’ll wait ’til the next petrol station, I’ve still got a quarter of a tank left.” In parts of North Wales and the far Southwest, petrol stations are few and far between. Lots aren’t open all hours like you’re urban Tesco express, and some are shut on random days in very small communities. Keep your car sensibly filled up! Don’t risk your sanity and safety by getting stranded on a rural road. And make sure you’re registered with a roadside assistance service. Keep your RAC/AA/whatever card handy, along with at least one mobile phone. (Said mobile phone should be shut in the glovebox when you’re driving – don’t be a moron and do anything with your phone when driving.)
- On the subject of fuel consumpton; try not to idle for no bloody good reason belching out unnecessary Co2 into the environment. The earth is suffering as it is without needless pollution. Most of us have to drive cars, especially if we work, live or play in rural areas. But please minimise your impact by not idling when you don’t need to, and also by driving economically; no arsing about in the wrong gear. You can even have lessons especially in eco-driving now, for fuck’s sake.
- Dont drive on certain roads of you’re unsure, especially if it’s winter. listen to road signs advising you not to drive on certain roads in certain conditions. I once drove up the Long Mynd in Shropshire, and it was one of the scariest fucking things I have ever done. I will never do it again, to be honest. I’ll park in Church Stretton and bloody well walk up it, if I want the magnificent views. Don’t try and be brave. If a road looks terrifying, don’t drive it. Many single track roads in mountainous or upland regions of the UK are surprisingly dangerous, with few passing places and they don’t need the unncecessary traffic from inexperienced tourists. You DO NOT want to have to reverse all the way back down a winding, single track lane with no safety barrier at the edge, if you meet another vehicle comign the other way. Trust me.
- Leading on from that, don’t drive in adverse conditions unless you really have to. Heavy rain, heavy snow, high winds. Stay home, for your own safety as well as that of others. Remember emergency services are overstretched as it is. As an arrogant 24 year old, I stacked a ford fiesta on the A3 because I didn’t bloody listen to someone who told me not to go out driving in a fucking storm. It was a really shitty day, because of that.
- Finally, emergency vehicles – not advice necessarily, more something to be aware of perhaps. Emergency services take a lot longer to reach people in rural areas, for obvious reasons. That is one reason why road traffic collisions in rural areas are more deadly. BE SAFE, DON’T TAKE UNNECESSARY RISKS AND ALWAYS HAVE YOUR MOBILE PHONE CHARGED UP AND IN YOUR CAR.
Anyway, happy driving. Enjoy all that the British countryside has to offer. It is beautiful, eccentric, colourful and there is nowhere on Earth like it. Co-operate with ALL road users; be it cyclists, walkers, equestrians, working people, or wild animals. The outdoors is good for us, and for many of us the countryside is where we belong. Just don’t be a twat on rural roads. Slow down and use your brain.