Rural roads are just more dangerous. The crash rate on rural roads is twice that on state roads, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT). Unfortunately, despite the many hazards and relative lack of safety equipment on rural and gravel roads, many people feel like the lack of traffic keeps them safer.
Yes, there is less traffic, but there are also slow-moving vehicles, farm equipment, and oversize vehicles; culverts and driveways; nearby ditches, ponds and pastures; crossing animals; less signage, no shoulder and a lack of guard rails. There is plenty of activity and lots of opportunity for crashes.
As many as 255 people have died in motor vehicle crashes in Iowa through the first nine months of this year. Even more suffered serious injuries. Unfortunately, the majority of those crashes were on rural roads. In 2021, 72% of all the fatal crashes in Iowa occurred on rural roads.
In response to the alarming statistics, The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) has recruited five counties — Appanoose, Fremont, Humboldt, Keokuk and Mitchell – to participate in a new safety program called the High Five Rural Traffic Safety Program.
Using increased traffic enforcement, community outreach and media, DPS hopes to sharply reduce rural-road tragedies in Iowa. The program starts December 1 and will run through September 30, 2023.
What’s causing so many crashes on rural roads?
According to IDOT, the No. 1 reason for crashes on rural roads is people driving too fast for conditions. Further, those conditions are always changing on rural roads, varying throughout the year and around each corner. Staying to the posted speed limit is a start, but it may not be enough.
We can all help by doing our part and driving more safely when in rural areas.
10 tips for safer driving in rural areas
- Slow down. Don’t speed, no matter how tempting it seems.
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Be aware of changing conditions and change your driving in response to them. Go slower than the posted speed limit in poorer conditions.
- Avoid distractions and pay close attention to what is going on around you even though the road may seem clear.
- Be patient behind slower-moving vehicles. Don’t tailgate and don’t try to pass unless you are certain you can do so safely in a designated passing zone. Always make sure the slow vehicle can see you before you pass.
- Slow down on gravel roads because it takes much longer to stop on gravel. Also, gravel mounded on the sides of the road can slip and pull you off the road if you go too fast.
- Adjust your following distance. If you would follow two seconds behind the car in front of you on a state highway, give it three seconds on a rural road – and six seconds on gravel or when the road is wet or slippery.
- If you can’t see the car in front of you due to dust, slow down and put more space between you and that vehicle.
- At narrow bridges, slow down and be prepared to stop for oncoming traffic.
- Watch for railroad crossings, which typically won’t have gates. Slow down before entering a railroad crossing and be prepared to stop for a train.
Remaining alert to the possibility of sudden changes is the key. Despite their sometimes sleepy appearance, there is always the potential for activity on rural roads.