Standardised categories for rural roads 'could save lives'

Chris Ames

Researchers have proposed a new way of sub-dividing so-called ‘rural roads’, which they say could cut casualties.

The RAC Foundation said work carried out on its behalf by consultants Agilysis has taken the first steps in breaking down rural roads into several subcategories so that crashes can be better understood, and money better spent to reduce deaths and serious injuries.

It pointed out that government statistics – derived from police crash reports – show that 981 (63%) of the 1,558 road deaths in Britain in 2021 were listed as occurring on rural roads – a definition that means outside a town or city.

‘However, 649 of these deaths (66% of 981) took place not on the twisting country lanes we might imagine as the typical rural route but on motorways (86 deaths) and A roads (563 deaths).’

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: ‘This report suggests there are at least 10 types of “rural” road with specific characteristics, and the only thing they have in common is that they run outside our big towns and cities.

‘The risk is that the catch-all term “rural road” has hidden a multitude of different highway types, each of which poses its own range of road safety challenges. The better we understand our roads and the risks users face on them, the better targeted our decisions on when and where to spend money will be.’

He added: ‘New, standardised categories would allow the dozens of police forces, hundreds of councils and any number of road safety professionals to use a common terminology to compare experiences and deploy those interventions most likely to reduce risk.’

The researchers decided on a range of road characteristics to meaningfully divide rural roads, including: width; traffic flow; traffic type; speed limit; gradient; markings; location; surrounding land use; population density; and remoteness.’

Machine learning was then used to help compare and contrast the characteristics of a sample group of 483 sections of rural roads (not including motorways) which were also appraised by a highway engineer.

Four main categories of rural road were then identified:

  1. Principal roads – generally wide, fast moving and flat, sometimes dual carriageway, often close to populated areas
  2. Country roads – narrower, sometimes undulating, single-carriageway with moderate traffic levels
  3. Neighbourhood roads – through rural communities
  4. Winding roads - narrow single carriageways, mostly unclassified and sometimes single track, generally low speed and with little traffic

Bruce Walton, technical director of Agilysis and Road Safety Analysis, said: 'This study is an opportunity to tackle a long-standing challenge in road safety: how to address road danger on rural routes, which are easily overlooked because they are lightly trafficked or run through remote areas.

'The report outlines a mechanism to help engineers and blue light services do this more effectively. It also proposes a practical process which could deliver it, creating the prospect of further research to develop a coherent national approach that provides valuable insight into our sometimes-neglected rural road network.'

The full report can be downloaded from the RAC Foundation website.

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