Let’s hurry up and reduce speed limits on our killer rural roads

Given the stress of city driving and the high speeds on motorways, you might think driving in the countryside would be safer. But this simply isn’t true. I n fact, more than four-fifths of all road deaths this year have taken place on rural roads. This is not an isolated case.  I n 2015, an EU report on road safety concluded fatalities in rural areas were highly over-represented in Ireland compared with the EU average. Since 2017, the proportion of deaths on rural roads has risen from 74pc to 82pc this year. 

hy are so many road deaths occurring on rural roads and, in particular, roads with an 80kmh speed limit? Most collisions are due to driver error, and it is most likely that common causes are drivers losing control of their car when overtaking or driving too fast. However, when collisions are not evenly spread throughout the road network and specific types of roads record significantly higher rates, clearly there are other factors involved. Rural roads have higher average speeds than urban roads and are often narrower, with sharp corners and blind bends.

Road user behaviour is a major factor in crashes, and countless studies demonstrate that drivers modify their behaviour according to the risk they perceive. Risk comes in many forms, from getting caught speeding to being injured and/or injuring others. Risk perception has been the subject of much research in Australia, where more than 70pc of the population live in major cities but over 50pc of road deaths occur on rural roads. Studies highlight the disparity in attitude and behaviour between driving on rural and city roads. Generally, drivers not only believe rural roads are safer, but often claim more road fatalities occur in city areas. Could this be the case in Ireland? Do drivers perceive rural roads to be safer?

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