Leading rural insurer announces Code for Countryside Roads as Scottish rural road deaths increase 44%

Nick Turner (Chief Executive of NFU Mutual)

THE leading rural insurer today (Tuesday 5 December) announces plans for a Code for Countryside Roads as exclusive analysis of official figures shows that rural road deaths have rocketed to a four-year high, with 1017 people losing their lives on rural roads in 2022 – up 14% on the previous year.

The analysis in the new report shows the disparity between rural and urban road deaths has also risen, with rural road fatalities 72% higher than urban road fatalities (593).

In Scotland, 127 people lost their lives on rural roads in 2022, an increase of 44% on 2021. The number of rural road deaths was 202% higher than urban road fatalities (42).

Tragically, in Britain, accidents on rural roads are around four times more likely to result in a fatality. In 2022, an average of one in every 31 accidents (1017 of 31395) on rural highways resulted in a death, compared to one in every 120 (593 of 71151) on urban roads.

The report can be viewed here: Rural Road Safety Report 2023.pdf.

In response to the disproportionate risk and tragic, avoidable loss of life on rural roads, in 2021 leading rural insurer NFU Mutual launched its rural road safety campaign. The campaign is supported by THINK!, British Cycling, The British Horse Society and the four UK farming unions and aims to raise awareness of the unique hazards of rural roads to support all road users to reduce avoidable casualties.

With rural road deaths once again increasing to a four-year high, NFU Mutual is today announcing plans to create a Code for Countryside Roads to bring together expert knowledge and advice to make rural roads safer for everyone.

Nick Turner, Chief Executive of NFU Mutual, said:

“Rural roads are not only the arteries of the rural economy, but also the gateway to our countryside and a source of enjoyment for millions.

“Sadly, our analysis shows that, after a few years of decreasing fatalities, rural roads are becoming more deadly again. Over 1,000 people lost their lives on rural roads last year, with thousands more injured.

“Every road death is one too many, and we believe serious conversations need to happen to make rural roads safer for everyone.

“That is why we are today announcing a Code for Countryside Roads, which will take in feedback and advice from experts and groups to provide a clear guide to how people should use rural roads.

“We all need to work together to ensure we keep our countryside as safe as it can be.

“We invite members of the public and experts to get in touch with us to feed into the Code for Countryside Roads and hope the document, once published, will help steer a course towards safer rural roads for all road users.”

Members of the public can contact NFU Mutual to provide their views on a Code for Countryside Roads at www.nfumutual.co.uk/campaigns/rural-road-safety/rural-road-safety-consultation/.

NFU Mutual announces the Code for Countryside Roads as analysis shows rural roads are significantly more dangerous for car drivers and their passengers. In 2022, motorists and their passengers were more than three times more likely to lose their lives on a rural road than an urban highway. The death of car drivers and their passengers increased 23% to 557, returning to levels not seen since 2018. Urban fatalities for people in cars totalled 176 in 2022.

A survey conducted in November by NFU Mutual found that one in seven people had been in an accident on a rural road, and one in five admit to being uncomfortable driving on rural roads.

Among respondents’ top concerns about rural road safety were blind corners (63%), narrow roads (53%), impatient drivers (50%) and people breaking the speed limit (47%).

Vulnerable road users

In January 2022, the Highway Code was amended to introduce a ‘hierarchy of road users’ where the greatest responsibility for protecting road users lies with those most likely to cause damage. The change also brought in rules to give vulnerable road users such as cyclists, horse riders, pedestrians and motorcyclists greater protection from motorists.

Vulnerable road users travelled on average just one-sixteenth the number of miles travelled by car drivers. Despite this, the number of motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians who lost their lives on rural roads increased 5% in 2022, to 409 – just 150 fewer than the number of deaths of car drivers on rural roads.

More than twice as many motorcyclists lost their lives on rural roads (240) than urban roads (103) in 2022. With an average of just 64 miles per year per person completed by motorcyclists on rural roads, they remain the most at risk vulnerable road user group as deaths increased 11% from 2021.

Pedestrian deaths on rural roads also increased as around one rural walker or rambler tragically died every three days in 2022 – an increase of 11% from the year before.

After a spike during lockdown, cycling deaths decreased for the second year in a row, to 46, just one more than the number killed in urban areas.

Horses and their riders are another vulnerable road user group significantly at risk on rural roads. According to The British Horse Society, 69 horses were killed on the road in 2022 and 139 riders injured, with equine-related road incidents increasing 21% on 2021.

In NFU Mutual’s survey, almost one in four respondents – and 47% of those living in rural areas – said navigating vulnerable road users like cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders was amongst their top concerns when it comes to rural road safety.

Claims experts at NFU Mutual have identified some key areas which contribute towards accidents on rural roads, many of which are less severe or not present on urban roads:

  • Vehicles travelling at high speeds resulting in head-on collisions
  • A loss of control at unanticipated tight corners, often due to excessive speed
  • Unmarked junctions or hidden entrances
  • Weather conditions, such as icy roads, water, or low glare from the sun
  • Increased traffic from rural businesses – collisions between agricultural vehicles and third parties are 52% more likely during the summer harvest season, for example

To help road users navigate the unique hazards of rural roads, NFU Mutual has worked with its campaign partners to produce information on rural road safety. This can be found at: www.nfumutual.co.uk/ruralroadsafety.

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