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9 Tips for Avoiding Rural Road Risks

Rural road safety can often be overlooked considering that significantly less, people drive on rural roads. However, the wider lanes and fewer passing cars can place people into a false sense of security.1

Consider the fact that, 65% of road deaths in 2021 occurred on rural roads.2

Even if we were to account for the extra time spent travelling that people who live in these areas do, this is still a disproportionate number. 

So, while you might not often find yourself cruising down a rural highway, there are some things to keep in mind for the occasions that you do.  

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways that rural roads can be dangerous compared to urban roads and the best ways to stay safe in those conditions. 

Why are rural roads particularly high risk? 

There are a number of risks present on rural roads that are not seen in major cities and urban areas. Factor in higher speed limits and a false sense of security created by the conditions, and you have what appears to be the perfect storm to make rural and remote roads some of Australia’s deadliest.2

Speed Limits 

Rural areas mean higher speed limits, and we all know that the faster the speed at impact, the more serve the outcome.3 Therefore, you will go further in a smaller amount of time, which means that there is less time for you to react to hazards.


Tip #1:

Remember that the speed limit is the maximum that you are allowed to go in ideal conditions. Factors such as rain, darkness, sunshine, and potential hazards need to be considered when selecting your speed. 

Further, while the 3-second safety gap is recommended, in rural areas, you have plenty of space, so you can increase the gap for a couple more seconds before resuming your normal speed to give yourself and other road users that extra time if something does go wrong.  

Vision Obstructions 

The higher percentage of unsealed roads causing dust, large trees and vegetation, smoke from burn-offs, larger vehicles, and increased instances of fog4 all contribute to the increased likelihood of having obstructed vision in ways that aren’t typical in urban areas.  

Simply, less buildings means less things to collect and prevent objects from getting on the road. Dust from freshly ploughed paddocks and hay – before it’s had a chance to be bailed – can cover the road on a windy day. Smoke from controlled burn-offs, bonfires, and occasionally even chimneys can all blow onto the road impairing the vision of the driver. Fog can more easily creep in due to the lack of heat retention from infrastructure, and larger vehicles, such as trucks and tractors, along with vegetation cannot only obscure what might be coming up ahead, but also the road directly in front of you.  

Tip #2:

While it may not seem like a solution, some of the best advice here is to just take it easy. You’ll still get to where you need to go, but driving as if conditions are ideal will not help when something goes wrong. If you can’t see what’s coming, then you can’t be aware of hazards. 

Slow down, and even pull over when it’s safe to do so, because it’s better to arrive late than never at all. 


There is more wildlife in rural and remote areas compared to established urban areas. Combine this with the lack of people, and plenty of these little creatures often feel comfortable making themselves at home in areas that might not be the safest option for them. Dusk and dawn are the most common times for these animals to be active and they can pose a significant hazard on the roads.5 

Another lot of animals to consider are livestock. While it’s not often that farmers move their herds along the side of the road, it’s not uncommon to come across a farm crossing (where someone’s land might be on either side of a public road, meaning that the animals will at times be moved between paddocks over the road, in a real-life animal crossing). However, what does tend to be slightly more common is that the odd sheep, cow, camel, or other animal gets out of its paddock and can be seen strolling down the road. These not only provide a potential vision obstruction but are also a significant crash risk.  

Kangaroos are notorious for bounding beside cars and then jumping in front of them as quickly as the wind changes. Livestock can be just as unpredictable so you shouldn’t rely on them to see a car and not step in front of it.  

Tip #3: 

Once again, the best thing you can do is slow down once you’ve spotted an animal within sight of the road or around the times when animals are known to be active. 

Even if you don’t feel the need to try and avoid wildlife, you still need to slow down, at least for your own sake.  

Smaller native animals such as wombats might not seem intimidating, but at 100km/h, they can damage your wheels, as can other animals at such speeds. Furthermore, while rabbits and possums may not pose much of a risk to you or your vehicle, Kangaroos – who are known for jumping in front of cars – are a different story. They can significantly damage your car and injure you, either from knocking you off the road (maybe into a tree) or falling through the windscreen. 

If you do happen to come face to face with an animal, and you can’t stop in time, the instinct is often to swerve. Don’t. While there are plenty of animals that can do quite a bit of damage, it is still better than hitting another car or even a tree.  

Tip #4:

Check out Roadkill: Wildlife on Our Roads for more information and tips for dealing with driving and wildlife. 

Lack of infrastructure 

While it might be obvious that there’s simply less stuff in rural areas, this also extends to our roads. The sides of roads often contain rough edges or a small width of gravel and then unkept land. It’s often rough, very uneven, and can be covered in overgrown grass making it difficult to see where dips are. Limited or no street lighting, glow from nearby houses or buildings, or stream of traffic to keep you illuminated, also means that if it’s dark no one will know that you are there until it’s too late.  

There’s also less services to help you. If you run out of petrol or run into battery issues, another person will need to come out to you to help fix the problem.  

Tip #5:

Before taking off, make sure things are running well with your car and that you have more than enough left in your tank. If something is wrong, fix it or find alternative options. If you only have a slight concern, such as your car made a weird noise for a couple seconds the other week, let someone who is available to help if needed know, in case something does go wrong. 

If you’re on the road and something starts to feel off, look for the next safe spot to pull over. There isn’t always a safe place to pull over and there’s no emergency stopping lanes. If it’s been raining, the sides of the roads can often be muddy, or even containing large puddles, making them unsuitable. This is why pulling over as soon as you can is essential because it’s easy to think “she’ll be right” and 20 mins later you’re half on the road and half bogged to the extent that you’re trying to figure out the nearest tow truck.  

Medical care is rarely near by 

One factor that many people fail to consider when assessing the risks of rural driving is the distance to medical assistance1 and we all know that the time from the moment of injury to being in a hospital, is crucial to the outcome.  

To put it simply there are less hospitals where there are less people, and while there are services like the royal flying doctors for remote areas, it’s not certain that air transport will be the first option when in rural areas just outside of major cities, meaning it could be a significant amount of time before an ambulance reaches you, let alone gets you to a hospital that has the capabilities to deal with your level of road trauma.  

Tip #6:

We know that there is always a risk to driving, however very few see this risk increasing when entering rural areas. So, while we can’t give you a tip for increasing the rate of available ambulances in rural regions, what we do recommend is being aware that a safety net that you may be used to is no longer there when selecting the appropriate speed.   

There is also an app called “What3words”, which has broken down all the earth into three-meter squares and assigned them three words, this way when you need emergency services to find you quickly, you can look check the app. The cool thing is, much like calling 000, your service provider doesn’t need to have coverage in that area, you just need to be in an open enough space to ping a satellite. This means that even if you have no reception, you could potentially still get the words for your location. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to say the words exactly as they are, for example chairs – joy – snack will be a different location to chair – joy – snack, and chairs – joy – snacks, and all the other combinations you could make with these words and their plurals/singulars.   

Unsealed roads 

We may have covered the dust aspect of driving on gravel roads, but it also needs to be remembered that it is an unstable surface to be driving on, and as such, the risk of skidding or losing control increases, which also means that you require a longer stopping distance. 

Tip #7:

Always slow down, leave a larger gap between you and the vehicle in front, and remain focused and vigilant.  

Flying objects 

This can include stones from unsealed roads, hay off the back of utes, and literally anything else that the person in front might be carrying.  

It’s not uncommon for people to be moving things in urban areas, but it just seems to be a much higher rate of it outside the city, so there’s a good chance that the car in front is transporting something, and if it’s in an open tray, it’s a lot easier for debris from that something to be on your windshield, especially at higher speeds. For the most part, it will likely only be a vision obstruction, but in the case of flying stones it can result in a chipped or cracked windshield.  

Tip #8

When driving behind a vehicle on unsealed roads, or one that might have objects that could become a problem, back off. It’s harder for those objects to hit your car the further away it is.  

It’s more likely you will become fatigued while driving 

While it might seem rather benign compared to things like tailgating and speeding, fatigue is actually one of the biggest problems on our roads.6 Fatigue more commonly occurs during long drives, continuous stretches of road, and lack of variety of surroundings, all of which are often key aspects of rural driving.7

Being awake for 17hrs can result in impairment comparable to a BAC of 0.05.7  

Tip #9:

If you know you’re fatigued don’t get behind the wheel.  

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of fatigue, such as yawning, difficulty concentrating, boredom, irritability, tired/sore eyes, and restlessness. If you start experiencing these symptoms take at least a 15-minute break, get out of the car, stretch your legs and have something to eat. 

Remember that you need to take at least a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving, and it’s best to share driving duties where possible. 

What is Rural Road Safety Month? 

Rural Road Safety Month was developed by Australian Road Safety Foundation seven years ago and takes place every September. 

The goal is to bring awareness to the issue that is the Australian road toll on rural roads. We use this month to help change the public’s views of rural driving with the aim for more people to adapt the mentality that we are all responsible for road safety.  

While we push for rural road safety in September, it’s important to stay vigilant and commit to safe driving behaviours regardless of the month and to not revert to previous behaviours. 

For real change to happen and for lives to be saved, the changes we make need to be ongoing and become a part of our normal. 

The cold hard facts 

  • 47% of our road fatalities on rural roads are of people who do not live in the local area8
  • Over a third of drivers will drive on a high-risk rural road at least once a week9
  • The most common reason for travelling on rural roads is in fact not work, but for personal reasons9
  • 56% of rural road fatalities are the driver, which is almost 25% more than in urban areas10
  • There were more driver deaths in regional and remote areas in 2021, than all road deaths in major cities combined10
  • More than a third of drivers admit to speeding on rural roads, while almost two thirds admit to driving while fatigued in rural areas1
  • In 2021, 25 people were killed or seriously injured due to crashes involving animals in Western Australia alone11
  • 256 of reported crashes in Victoria in 2018 outside of the metro area, involved a collision with an animal, of that 38 were with cattle, 161 were kangaroos/wallabies, 10 were domesticated animals, two were unknown, 43 were other wildlife, and two were wombats12

Book a driver education course with Road Sense Australia

This isn’t to terrify you every time you venture out of the suburbs, but rather to equip you with the knowledge to do so safely. We get that slowing down can be frustrating, and stopping every two hours can feel like unnecessarily adding time onto an already long trip, but these measures could be the very things that save your life, or at the least your car.   

To learn more about the best ways to keep you and others safe on the road, sign up to our driver education course. 

To find out more about our other programs, click HERE.

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