Rural roads hide unexpected hazards
Somerset is a rural county and the majority of the counties roads run through the countryside. It is an unfortunate fact that 60% of all fatalities from road traffic collisions occur on country roads, so it worth spending a little time thinking about some of the hazards you may encounter when riding on rural roads.
Vehicles travelling on single carriage-way roads are subject to the national speed limit. However, country roads closely follow the contours of the land and as such are full of hazards such as sharp bends, blind summits, hidden dips, and concealed entrances to name but a few. It is also a fact that many country roads are very narrow and traffic travelling in opposite directions is forced to travel in the same lane. It is therefore safe to say that riding at the national speed limit along these stretches of road is not a sensible option and riders should ensure they ride at a limit that is suitable for the road conditions. Remember to look out for warning signs as they will provide you with notice of upcoming hazards.
Remember the basic riding safety rule: Be able to stop on your own side of the road within the distance you can see to be clear.
You will find below a list of some of the more common types of hazard that you may encounter when riding on rural roads:
Debris and other surface hazards are common on country roads; fallen branches from overhanging trees, large stones washed out from fields, or diesel and mud/dust from agricultural vehicles could be just around the next bend. Hitting any of these at speed can either cause your bike to lose traction with the road surface, or cause damage to the bike itself. Be observant, use your senses - you can often smell diesel on the roads before you see it. Look for gateways and farm entrances as a clue to changing conditions.
The layout of country roads can mean that drainage in some areas is poor. During periods of heavy rainfall water can have nowhere to go and ends up forming large deep pools in the road. Never attempt to drive through flood water unless you know how deep the water is. Remember that 30cm of flowing water is enough to move the average family car and 60cm of standing water will float it. It’s also worth noting that large stones and other debris, washed out from fields and hedges, can lie unseen under the water and can damage your bike if you attempt to ride over it. Watch for other vehicles to get an idea of whether it is safe to proceed. Use the centre of the road if it is safe to do so. Beware of other drivers just trying to 'blast' through and creating a forward wave.
Weather can take its toll on the surface of the road and cause potholes to form; in some cases these potholes can be large and deep. Riding over these potholes at speed can result in loss of control of the bike or damage to the bike itself. Be alert for signs of wear to the road and try, if possible, to avoid riding on those areas. Remember to report pot holes as soon as you can.
Animals, both wild and domestic, can be found by the side of the road or on the roadway itself; be alert to their possible presence and remember that animals can react in unexpected ways when confronted with a vehicle. Slow right down if you see animals by the side of the road as they may well attempt to cross the road at the last minute. Consider the time of day - early mornings and late in the evenings are the prime times for animal movements near roads.
Horses and riders:
The simple rule if you meet a horse and rider is to pass wide and slow and only when it is safe to do so. On small lanes where the road is too narrow to pass with a safe distance between the horse and the vehicle - be patient; most horse riders will pull their horse in for you to pass at the next available passing place. Never rev your engine or beep your horn as this could easily spook the horse and result in the rider being thrown.
Bright sunlight early in the morning and late at night can really impair visibility. Slow down or pull in until you are sure it is safe to proceed. Be aware of other vehicles driving towards you if the sun is behind you - the chances are they may not even see you on the road. Wind and rain or a combination of both can pick up speed over open fields. Breaks in hedges can allow sudden gusts to affect bike stability, so look out for these and low lying hedges that will not offer much protection from the wind. Really cold days can cause 'micro climates' - an example would be icy patches remaining in shaded areas of the road, particularly on the nearside. If you see a shaded area on a really cold day, position your bike slightly closer to the centre of the road if it is safe to do so to avoid frozen areas.
Agricultural vehicles are a common sight on country roads. Be alert for them pulling out from fields, many of the gateways to which are concealed within high hedges making it difficult for both you and the driver of the agricultural vehicle to see one another. The sheer size of modern agricultural vehicles can make them a hazard to other road users, it often necessary for them to encroach on the other lane and on narrow lanes they can take up the entire road width. Remember this fact when approaching sharp bends and slow down as you never know what may be coming round the corner.
Staying safe on rural roads is not a difficult task as long as you remember to expect the unexpected and keep your speed down so that you have time to react when the unexpected occurs.
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