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Rural roads 'a barrier' to country living, claims new survey

By Alan Beresford

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ALMOST a quarter of people are worried that the quality of rural roads presents a barrier to country living, new research has revealed.

Harvest time brings a lot more agricultural vehicles onto rural roads and with it the increased danger of collisions.
Harvest time brings a lot more agricultural vehicles onto rural roads and with it the increased danger of collisions.

The study, conducted by rural insurer NFU Mutual, comes during the most dangerous time of year on the UK’s rural roads, as uncertainty over increased harvest traffic leads to a significant increase in collisions.

The UK is in the middle of harvest season, with high volumes of agricultural traffic on the road throughout summer, including many tractors pulling heavy silage and grain trailers or wide agricultural machinery.

Unfortunately, the latest claims data from NFU Mutual shows that collisions between agricultural vehicles and third parties were 52 per cent more likely between the start of May and the end of September 2022 than in any other months. On average, there were 423 of these accidents per month during the silage cutting, hay making, and harvesting season, compared to 249 per month between October and April.

As well as an increase in agricultural traffic, the summer months also coincide with the school holidays and a greater amount of leisure traffic, with road users not necessarily used to rural roads, which can further increase the risk of accidents.

Andrew Chalk, rural road safety specialist at NFU Mutual, calls for greater awareness and respect from all rural road users.

He said: “Rural roads come with unique hazards, including narrow lanes, fewer road markings and often less well-maintained surfaces.

"NFU Mutual’s new research shows that a significant number of people are uncomfortable on rural roads, and sadly this is only more acute as agricultural machinery traffic increases in summer.

“Our claims data shows that accidents involving these agricultural vehicles and third parties are over 50 per cent more likely in the harvesting season, so it’s more important than ever that road users are patient and considerate for their fellow road users.

“Agricultural vehicles are generally large, wide and slow, which can tempt road users to overtake, but it’s vital that you remain patient and only overtake when it’s safe to do so – when you can see a clear road ahead, there are no field openings, and you have space to pass. With narrow rural roads, you may need to wait for a suitable opportunity.

“Farmers and contractors cannot drive too quickly, but they will generally either be going a short distance to an adjacent field or will – and should – pull over to allow built-up traffic to pass. Motorists and cyclists should be patient, give agricultural vehicles room to turn and not drive too closely to them, which can be dangerous and can obstruct your view before overtaking.

“It’s important to remember that rural roads are vital arteries for our agricultural industry, allowing farmers to bring in the harvest which helps feed the population, as well as valued spaces which allow us to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

“Mutual respect from those who use rural roads for work and for pleasure will ultimately help keep our motorists, cyclists, horse riders and walkers safe this harvest season.”

NFU Mutual has compiled a guide to respecting rural roads during this year’s harvest season:

All road users

  • Give plenty of space when overtaking. Vulnerable road users, such as walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists, should be given as much room as motorists where possible.
  • Always check for other road users, particularly at the entrance of fields and junctions.
  • Be patient with fellow road users and only overtake when it is safe for all road users.
  • Consider where you park to avoid blocking field entrances or obstructing the road for wide agricultural machinery, such as combine harvesters, as they will often need to drive across two lanes.
  • Be aware of mud on the road. Rural roads are essential to our farming industry and therefore some mud will be dragged from fields to the road.
  • Familiarise yourself with the Highway Code.
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions like looking at your phone or listening to music through headphones, allowing you to be aware of your surroundings.


  • Ensure all equipment is road worthy and pay particular care to things like trailers which may not have been used for months. Check brakes and indicators and make sure you have reflectors and a beacon for your vehicle. Use the Tilly Checklist to inspect your trailer.
  • Be aware of vulnerable road users or hidden junctions, making contractors aware of these junctions and commonly-used walking, cycling and riding routes.
  • Familiarise yourself and your contractors with the speed limits for your vehicles.
  • If your agricultural vehicles leave mud in the road, remember to clean it up.
  • When turning, indicate in plenty of time and check more than once for road users on your inside.
  • Be respectful to fellow road users, but only allow them to pass when it is safe to pull over.

Pedestrians, cyclists and motorists

  • Speed limits are not targets. Always drive appropriately and remember rural roads are likely to have hazards such as tighter carriageways, blind corners, and animals in the road.
  • Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders should consider wearing appropriate clothing which enables them to be seen.
  • Respect that rural roads are vital to our farming industry and expect to encounter tractors, farm machinery or animals in the road.
  • Signal correctly and in plenty of time, whether you are a motorist, cyclist or horse rider.

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