Summer driving tips: bends on country roads
This is the time of year when leisure drivers go on leisure journeys on our roads, rather than restricting their hobby to motorways dedicated to it. These people are often unused to driving on country roads, and need to treated with caution. Often these people haven't yet learned their highway code -or worse, picked up third-hand misunderstanding of it from social media.
For leisure drivers, here is some advice to help them enjoy their hobby better, by driving safely with the users of the road who are trying to use it for work, important journeys such as to shops, and family duties.
"What do it I do if I come round a bend and find a cyclist in the middle of the lane?"
If you are asking this, you've already made the mistake. The question you should ask is: given there will be other road users on a British Road, how do I safely go round corners?
In a two lane road, you need to anticipate what could be behind the bend. Slow moving tractors, horses and cyclists heading the same direction and things to anticipate. You will implicitly be approaching them at a "closure speed" of the difference between their speed and yours. The faster you are going the, the more you endanger yourself -and, if it is a vulnerable road user, them. The secret here is to slow down for the bend, drop a gear to use the engine to help control yourself though the corner, and be prepared to break as soon as you see something in your lane. If, as you complete the turn, the road ahead is clear, you can accelerate out of it -as you will already be in a gear to do so. In a front wheel drive, this will straighten up the car's direction-so wait until the corner has been completed. Rear wheel drives will not straighten up this way, but you do still need to wait for visibility. The best cue here is actually the lines in the road centre: if the line on your side goes from solid to dashed, it means that visibility for a long distance is now considered adequate for overtaking, -time to speed up, if safe.
You also need to plan for something completely stationary in the road: a fallen tree, a crash, a broken down vehicle. Here the closure rate is even higher than for a horse or cyclist, so be prepared to brake fast.
The biggest risk in a two- lane road is coming round to find an oncoming vehicle heading towards you. Here the closure rate is your speed plus theirs, and any collision will be very destructive. This is a common problem when there are other leisure drivers on the roads, those without enough experience to have the judgment safe driving needs. These drivers may have overtaken a horse, tractor or car too late for safety. Motorbikes can be expected to do this too, especially on "classic" roads for their leisure rides, such as, near Bristol, the Wye Valley Road, and the Chepstow to Usk road followed by the A479 from Abergavenny to Mid Wales.
These overtaking cars and motorbikes are very dangerous because they are coming towards you so fast. Again, a controlled execution of the corner in a lower gear, holding onto the wheel (no texting here!) and being ready to switch from accelerator to brake pedal is the best way to prepare. Motorbikers will, if given a moment's chance, slide into the main traffic stream. Drivers who have misplanned an overtake are a different problem: there is often nowhere for them to go. These drivers often lack experience and react badly by trying to complete the overtake. Brake hard, don't be afraid to engage the ABS, and don't worry about the strange feeling you get though the brake pedal. This is the ABS at work. You can still steer the car at this point, so do try, while slowing down, to get the side of your lane. If the vehicle/bicycle/horse being overtaken brakes/slows down and move to the side, there may be room to avoid a head on collision. If such an incident happens, if you have a dashcam, send the video to the police. Someone else may have a video you could use as evidence too: search for your registration number on youtube to see.
If this all seems scary -don't panic! With practice and experience it will become easy. The key things are the "two-A's": attention and anticipation. If you look ahead, and anticipate the horse, the cyclist, the fallen tree -then every time you encounter this you are ready. And when you don't? Time to accelerate out the corner, getting to a safe speed for the next bit of road. Of course, if there is another bend, you should just stay at the current speed and plan the next corner.
Looking at other vehicles is often informative too: if there is a vehicle in front, as you enter the corner, give it room to manoeuvre and brake, and look at its lights as a cue for braking yourself. If it's brakes come on, brake hard yourself, ready for what is ahead. It may just be they underestimated the size of the bend, and didn't approach it at the right speed. Just as easily, they may lack the experience to anticipate what is round the bend, and are now reacting badly.
Although these situations give you a good cue that a car is coming: headlights, the loss of visibility makes it harder to estimate how sharp a corner is. Assume it is tight and approach at a speed which you can sustain through a longer bend. If you are driving with headlights at full beam, drop the, before you enter the bend. This has multiple benefits
- If there is an oncoming vehicle, they aren't blinded as you come round the corner
- It can give you more warning of an oncoming vehicle, because their lights will now light up the bend better
- Finding and using the dipper is one less thing to worry about if you do come round the bend and encounter an oncoming vehicle, so you can hold onto the wheel and complete the turn.
A key hazard is if an oncoming vehicle is driven by someone inexperienced, one who has not pre-emptively dipped their headlamps. As you come round the corner, there is a risk that their beams briefly interfere with your vision. Again, anticipating this avoids any surprise. If you see any vehicle lights after you dip your lights, unless you see any signs of them dipping their beams, be prepared. What to do? Don't t look at the lights: look to the dark bit to the left, where you need to go. You will automatically steer in that direction. At the same time, you need to anticipate other road problems, so slow down until you can see ahead. There may be someone on a bike: look for the red read right or reflector. It may also be a terrain feature, such as a continuation of the bend. Use the white lines by the sides of the lanes as as a guide. A big hazard here is the Z-bend: before accelerating out the bend look ahead for warning signs of a subsequent bend. And of course, any Z-bend warning signs before the first one -but remember there may be more than two!
Dusk and dawn need special call out as dangerous. Why? Animals, especially deer. Dusk is when they come out and start foraging. Be particularly cautious near woods, especially if there are deep woods on either side of the road: a deer can easily jump out without warning. Again, for corners, anticipate them. Important: unlike sheep, a deer by the side of the road may well jump out in front of you. If you see a deer by the road-side, brake hard immediately.
If you are following another vehicle at night, and you are in an area you recognise as hazardous, increase the distance between you and the car in front -this gives you more time to react. Otherwise: attention and anticipation will again, get you home.
You also need to consider low sun at these times. It is straightforward to predict this: if the sun is low, and you are turning in its direction, at some point in the turn the sun will be in your eyes. Anticipate it, so you aren't surprised, and plan for the risk that there is a slow moving vehicle/horse, bicycle, deer or pedestrian you will need to avoid. Braking as you turn, before the sun hits your retinas, prepares you for such events.
Driving on country roads, especially at night, is often one of the driving skills hard to learn. It's not just that it is never taught or tested when learning to drive, it is so unlike urban driving. Who sees a deer in town? Or comes round a bend to discover some pedestrians walking on your side of the road-as recommend in the Highway Code? Practice will help-but beware of overconfidence.
What to do if this is all too much?
If you find this intimidating, and don't think you can safely drive round bends on country roads, in day or night, stick to motorways. These provide a low risk driving experience where bends are gentle, and separated lanes means that you will not encounter oncoming vehicles; segregation will keep you safely away from pedestrians, cyclists and tractors. You do still need to worry about deer: take care at dusk.