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Driving on rural roads requires more caution

As fatal collisions in Woolwich and Wilmot townships remind us, the picture of idyllic rural life doesn’t apply to the roadways – statistically, you’re more likely to be killed or seriously injured in an automobile accident on rural roads.

Part of the problem stems from a false sense of security: we’re driving on lightly travelled roads, so we tend to let our feet get heavier, and our minds wander. The result is that we suffer more injuries and fatalities when collisions occur – there are no fender-benders at 80 km/h.

While most traffic accidents happen in busy city areas where the speed limit is 60 km/h or less, most of these accidents are not serious enough to cause death. On the other hand, two-thirds of all deadly accidents happen on rural roads, in the country, where speed limits are higher and the roads aren’t as well-lit as they are inside the city. Drivers are more likely to find poor or unexpected conditions on rural roads, than in the city, and there’s always the danger of coming across animals that can appear out of nowhere, reports Transport Canada. (Across the country, an average of eight Canadians die in road crashes every day. Many more are seriously hurt.)

The agency says that about two-thirds of fatal and 30 per cent of injury collisions in Canada occur in rural areas, and these collisions often involve speeding, alcohol use and non-use of seat belts. In 2010, for instance, there were 834 fatal accidents in urban areas, but 1,131 in rural areas. For cases of personal injuries, the numbers were 91,434 and 29,716 respectively.

The number of fatalities was significantly higher, while the gap in injuries was much smaller than the difference in population.

Distractions appear more plentiful on rural roads: on busy urban streets, we have to focus our attention on driving because there is so much going on around us; out in the countryside, police surmise, we’re less attentive – moving at greater speeds, we have less time to react when something happens, and we’re less likely to be aware of a possible problem until it’s too late.

Studies show that driver behavior greatly influences the collision rate on rural roads. Motorists tend to think they are safer on rural roads since there is much less traffic, forget they have to share the roads with farm vehicles and animals, and tend to speed since they know that speed enforcement is lax. Alcohol and illegal substance abuse and lack of seatbelt use are often contributing factors in injuries and fatalities.

The numbers do explain the commonly expressed feeling that Woolwich has seen an extraordinary amount of tragedy – we have, in fact, had a more-than-average number of incidents over the years. It’s not just perception.

That said, much of the heartache is avoidable: as officials point out, the term “accident” is a misnomer. If a collision is deemed preventable – the result of speeding, inattention, driving inappropriately for road conditions, drinking or drugs, and the like – there’s nothing accidental about the results.

The good news is those numbers and the terrible human cost they represent – behind every statistic there are real people dealing with real consequences – can be reduced by individuals making better choices when they get behind the wheel. The summer travel season is in full swing, and despite clear skies and ideal road conditions, avoidable collisions do occur at this time of year.

With that in mind, now is a good time to tweak our awareness out there on the roads.

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