Nearly half of us overtake at speed on rural roads, according to a new study. But are we making sound judgements about when it’s safe to overtake – and is reducing speed limits on rural roads the answer?
Road safety group Brake found 47% of people overtake at speed on rural roads. While this figure didn’t shock me beyond expectation, hearing that one in eight drivers overtake when they can’t see what’s coming in the opposite direction certainly did.
At one time or another, each one of us has had that combined feeling of panic and fear when a car has misjudged an overtake and is heading towards you on your side of the road, only to swerve back across onto the correct side at the last second.
And most of the time that is exactly what it is – a misjudgement – either of the speed of the vehicle in front, the speed of the oncoming car, or the length of the vehicle being overtaken.
But if one in eight motorists openly admits they’re willing to overtake another vehicle when they have no idea what could be coming the other way, it can’t really be considered a misjudgement. Surely that’s an act of recklessness that needs to be ironed out of our driving attitude?
Road safety in numbers
Here are some figures that might make some drivers think twice before pulling out to overtake without a clear view ahead:
- In Britain in 2009, 749 deaths occurred on single carriageway roads with a speed limit of 60mph, accounting for a third of the total road deaths.
- According to police reports from the scenes, almost a third of deaths are due to exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for the conditions.
- Research by the Department for Transport (DfT) found the risk of motorists dying from a head-on collision involving two cars both travelling at 60mph is 90%. And that figure drops to just 65% if both are doing 50mph.
Should we have slower speed limits on rural roads?
As a result of this survey, Brake wants the speed limit reduced on rural roads, making limits more relative to the accident rates on that section of carriageway.
I’d argue that our rural roads are part of what makes driving in this country an enjoyable experience – far more so than sitting on motorways. In adequate conditions and with a clear run, I see no reason why 60mph isn’t acceptable in most rural cases.
And with such a high number of rural roads in the UK, I find it difficult to see how driving behaviour and speed will be enforced, especially with the current situation with speed camera operation at the moment.
For me, overtaking is an act of responsibility to yourself and other road users, so I’d rather see education outweighing enforcement.