The overall aim of this project is to identify, collate and review published research and other information relating to road accidents on rural roads, suggest how it may be applied to the situation in Scotland and provide recommendations for action. It consists of a review of published literature, mainly from the UK but also including some international papers, on issues and topics related to rural road safety.
Accidents on Scottish Rural Roads
The research found that a range of definitions are used for 'rural' and that this may hamper decision making. The following summarises the published statistics for accidents on non built-up Scottish roads:
- Non built-up roads accounted for 74% of fatalities and 52% of killed and seriously injured combined in 2003 in Scotland.
- The number of fatalities on non built-up roads has decreased at a much lower rate than on built-up roads over the last few years.
- Local 'B' and 'A' class roads have the highest accident rates (per vehicle kilometre) in Scotland.
- Fatalities on Scottish non built-up roads comprise 67% car occupants, 16% motorcyclists and 17% others.
- Most car occupant (70%), goods vehicle occupant (73%) and motorcyclist (62%) fatalities occur on non built-up roads.
Rural Road Accident Factors
As with all accidents, the main factors in rural road accidents can be split into three main groups: human factors (driver behaviour), environment factors (the road), and vehicle factors (defects).
The main driver behaviour factors associated with rural road accidents are identified as follows:
- Speed and speeding - there is a clearly established link between speed and accident frequency, with higher speeds also leading to more severe accidents. Young male drivers are most likely to drive at excessive speeds.
- Alcohol and drug use - there is considerable evidence to show the impairment effects of alcohol on driving but no concrete evidence that drink-driving is more prevalent in rural areas. Similarly there is little evidence to suggest that drug-driving is more prevalent in rural areas although it is suggested that it will not be confined to urban areas.
- Driver fatigue and sleepiness - this is almost exclusively a problem on rural roads due to the greater driver stimulation on urban roads. It has long been associated with motorways but recent research suggests that it could be the main factor in up to 20% of accidents on non-motorway rural roads. More work is required to quantify the extent of the problem in Scotland.
- Driver distraction - this can be split into external-to-vehicle and internal-to-vehicle distraction. There is little evidence to suggest that external-to-vehicle distractions are a major problem on Scottish rural roads. However, internal-to-vehicle distraction, especially from mobile phone use, is recognised as a potentially major problem although there is no reported evidence that it is more prevalent on Scottish rural roads than on urban roads.
- Seat belt usage - there is little evidence to suggest that seat belt wearing rates are lower in rural areas than in urban areas in Scotland.
The main road factors are identified as follows:
- The most common accident types on rural roads are head-on, run-off-the-road and junction accidents.
- Over 97% of Scotland's road network is single carriageway - this is a higher proportion than the rest of Great Britain.
- Modern roads (of all types) are safer than older designs because they contain hard-strips, safety barriers and fewer, better designed junctions.
- Most accidents on single carriageways occur on A roads, in 60mph speed limits away from junctions. They tend to be more severe than accidents in built-up areas.
- Single vehicle accidents account for around one third of all rural single carriageway accidents. They are most likely to occur on B or C class roads at night, on bends and involve young drivers.
- Road width, horizontal and vertical alignment, roadside characteristics, and junction frequency and design are all identified as factors contributing to rural road safety.
Other factors reviewed include:
- Darkness is recognised as being a contributor to rural road accidents and the case for adopting Single/Double Summer Time ( SDST) is reviewed. The literature suggests that the adoption of SDST would result in a slight reduction in the number of killed and seriously injured casualties in Scotland although the data on which the analysis is based is limited.
- Wild animals (especially deer) are estimated to be a factor in at least 1.5% of all injury accidents and collisions with deer result in several fatalities every year. The literature suggests that this problem is likely to increase as traffic volumes increase.
- Young drivers and motorcyclists are identified as being particularly at risk on rural roads.
- Tourist activity has been found to increase the number of accidents in some rural tourist areas of Scotland. However, the overall rate of accidents does not increase significantly during tourist high season. Additionally, there is little evidence to suggest that foreign tourists are at greater risk than local drivers.
- Emergency service response is identified as a key issue in rural road accident survivability.
Interventions for rural roads
There appears to be a lack of publications dealing with education, publicity and training interventions specifically targeted at rural roads. However, the THINK! Campaign has recently targeted rural road safety and some campaigns from the USA and Australia have been identified although no evaluations were found.
Driver training has been found to focus on basic control skills and there is evidence to suggest that attitude rather than skill is related to crash involvement. This will be particularly the case on rural roads because of higher speeds. Driver training should therefore address driving style and include awareness of personal skills and their limitations.
There is a great deal of literature dealing with engineering measures specific to rural roads. The more important and innovative are discussed including:
- Rural speed management
- Vehicle activated signs
- Shared space and Quiet Lanes
- Self explaining roads
- Psychological traffic calming
- Safety barriers
- '2+1' layouts
The role of enforcement is discussed and it is suggested that automatic enforcement may be particularly useful in rural areas.
- Further detailed quantification of the rural road safety problem in Scotland is required. It is recommended that a specific in-depth examination of the Scottish STATS19 database, with the emphasis on rural road issues, be carried out.
- It is recommended that a study to quantify the extent of fatigue/sleepiness as a factor in Scottish rural road accidents be carried out.
- A pilot publicity campaign, targeted at raising awareness of rural road safety issues should be devised and evaluated.
- Research should be carried out to ascertain the potential benefits of improving emergency service response in rural areas and identify best practice.
The following recommendations for action are made:
- Campaigns must be part of a strategy which includes enforcement and engineering changes. Therefore, it is recommended that a rural road safety strategy is developed and adopted.
- Education and publicity campaigns should continue to target young drivers who are disproportionately represented in rural road crashes.
- In addition, campaigns should be considered which highlight the dangers of rural roads to all drivers and try to erode the complacency that rural roads are safer because there is less traffic.
- Efforts should continue to remind drivers of the dangers of impairment, especially alcohol and fatigue.
- Recreational motorcyclists should be targeted through campaigns and training to reduce their risk on rural roads.
- Additional emphasis should be given to the potential for relatively low-cost engineering solutions and speed management tools.
Medium and long term
- Road infrastructure should be improved to reduce the potential for crashes and reduce the consequences when they do occur. The EuroRAP process provides a consistent way of identifying high risk roads and should be used to prioritise improvements.
- Consideration should be given to the use of innovative engineering solutions such as cable barrier medians on some single carriageways although it is recommended that these be carefully evaluated before widespread use.