Country roads may be a more enjoyable drive than long straight ones, but they account for two-thirds of serious crashes. Bank and summer holidays see more drivers on rural roads that they are not familiar with. High speed limits, tight bends and unexpected hazards all add to the risk.
Expect something – a cyclist, horse, a tractor – around every blind bend, and watch out for clues to their presence, such as horse dung on the road. Be particularly careful when passing horses. Just like people, horses are individuals and will react differently. Always give them space when passing, and don't risk startling them by rushing up or making any sudden noises. Try to be understanding if there are two horses riding side by side. Horse riders often do this to protect less experienced and nervous riders and horses.
Rural journeys often take longer than expected because of the slower road users, so allow extra time in your journey for obstacles, so you don't feel the need to rush.
In the spring, new vegetation growth may block your view around bends. Your speed should reflect the distance you can see to be clear – if you can only see three metres ahead, you should be able to stop within that distance. Vegetation can also obscure road signs. If you are looking for a particular sign, slow down until you see it and know where you're going. If you spot a sign too late, it's best to carry on rather than try a sudden manoeuvre.
On bright days, overgrowing trees can create dark shadowed areas which are difficult to see into. Slow down until you can see the road is clear.
Where there are farm vehicles moving around, there is likely to be mud spread on the road. This can get very slippery when wet, so be careful when passing entrances to fields. Loose gravel, leaves and potholes are also common so always keep an eye on the road surface.
Watch out for groups of bikers who can arrive unexpectedly and at speed. Listen out for clues of their approach and remember that the last rider in the group may be tempted to overtake dangerously to keep up with his friends.
On fast country roads, side turnings and gateways can present a real hazard. As you approach them question whether you could react in time if somebody was to appear from the entrance. If not, take your foot off the accelerator, and be prepared to brake. Try to spot side turnings early and take extra care when approaching buildings which may have entrances obscured from view.
Despite rural roads being the most dangerous, driving on them is not part of the driving test. If you're a learner, or are giving instruction to one, make sure you include rural roads in your practice.
Finally remember the national speed limit is a maximum, not a target speed, and may often be too fast for the conditions.