The UK’s rural roads are currently under increasing pressure from an unlikely source.
According to insurer NFU Mutual, the growing popularity of in-car satellite navigation systems has brought an influx of traffic to rural villages and country lanes as drivers attempt to find short-cuts around traffic jams.
All this extra traffic has added to the risk of accidents in the countryside.
And this invasion of traffic on local roads is badly timed as the peak holiday season of July and August clashes with harvest time.
NFU Mutual is calling on all drivers to be aware of the risks of accidents on rural lanes and is asking people to adjust their driving behaviour accordingly.
According to the farm insurer, most motorists believe rural roads are safer than motorways and urban roads, but a Department for Transport (DFT) survey revealed this to be incorrect.
An astonishing 64% of road accident fatalities occur on rural roads – with more than 16,000 people killed or seriously injured in 2004.
The DFT survey showed that younger and less experienced road users – those driving for less than a year – take the most risks, with almost one in 10 of those thinking it was safe to break the speed limit on rural roads due to the lack of cars around.
David Leavesley of the NFU Mutual’s risk management team says that the increasing uptake of sat-nav systems brings more pressure on rural roads that are not designed for modern traffic, and that serious accidents are mostly caused when drivers fail to appreciate that a horse or a slow moving tractor could be around the next corner.
“A high proportion of the most serious accidents involve fast moving cars, lorries or motorcycles coming into contact with farm vehicles,” he says.
Mr Leavesley believes that these accidents are often a result of human error, primarily undue speed and a lack of concentration.
Farmers who must use rural roads to get their work done are urged to ensure that farm vehicles are fitted with the correct safety equipment such as working indicators and tail lights.
Despite sat-nav systems being a strain on local roads, there is a flipside where the technology can lead hapless drivers down unmade roads or into deep fords.
Well publicised examples include the Forest of Dean, where heavy goods vehicles have been reportedly stuck in a steep country lane between Symonds Yat and the Wye Valley as they attempt to take a shortcut to the A40.