Keeping employees safe is critical for any business, but not all businesses face the same risks. For those with drivers travelling on rural roads, the dangers are significantly higher. While Australia’s regional and remote areas contain 30 per cent of the population, they tragically account for more than 65 per cent of the road toll. The rate of serious injury is also twice as high as major cities.
Rural Road Safety Month is an important national awareness campaign to make our roads safer and address dangerous behaviour. If you require drivers to travel on rural roads – whether they’re on long-haul trucking routes or driving short distances from a farm site – you need to be aware of the major risks. Here’s what you need to know.
Combine narrow roads with excessive speed, blind corners, and a high concentration of heavy vehicles, and you’ve got disaster waiting to happen. It’s no surprise that speed is a significant factor in the rural road toll. While many drivers will be on long-haul routes sitting at higher speed limits, it’s easy to get complacent about how fast they’re going. Unfortunately, speeding is just as risky on long, empty stretches of road as it is in high-traffic urban areas. In fact, research shows that in major cities, more than half of road deaths occur where the speed limit is 50 to 60 kilometres per hour – while in regional areas, most fatalities happen where the speed limit is 100 kilometres per hour. This is where fleet management software can help, to not only alert drivers in real-time when they’re breaching speed limits, but record and track speeding instances so you can provide ongoing training to reduce speed over time.
Your drivers have to contend with other vehicles on the road as well. With the Australian Road Safety Foundation finding that one in five drivers admit to breaking more road rules in rural areas (with speeding top of the list), keeping a wide berth of motorists and staying aware of their movements is essential.
On rural roads, you’ve also got farm machinery travelling at speeds of 30 kilometres around agricultural sites like wheat fields. That presents a significant risk of collision with a larger vehicle that’s coming around a bend at higher speeds. Staying alert and aware is key.
In metro areas, there’s plenty of stimulus around to keep our brains occupied and alert – other cars, buildings, traffic lights, pedestrians. When travelling in rural areas, empty landscapes and isolation cause your mind to wander and concentration to falter. Throw in a lack of physical movement, and it’s clear why fatigue sets in quickly during rural travel.
Rest breaks are crucial to stay alert and ensure drivers are meeting fatigue compliance rules. It’s also important for drivers to make regular stops throughout their trip. The reality is you can feel fatigue after just two hours of driving. Pulling over and stopping the vehicle isn’t enough – you need to get out and move around to stimulate your mind and body, get some fresh air and increase your body temperature to combat fatigue.
Designed to work in the most remote areas of Australia, Electronic Work Diaries (EWDs) play a vital role helping drivers manage fatigue. EWDs send automated in-cabin alerts for rest breaks, guaranteeing businesses keep compliant with Chain of Responsibility (CoR) requirements while ensuring drivers stay productive and legally compliant.
Planning ahead will help to keep your drivers safe on any rural journey. In the event of a collision, break down or roll over, nobody wants to be stuck in an isolated area with poor mobile coverage and no way to call for help. In-cabin telematics devices help both drivers and back-office workers to stay in the know, even in remote or inaccessible locations, creating a constant line of communication
Similarly, you need to maintain your vehicles with preventative measures and a incorporate a pre-trip checklist that identifies any faults before the driver embarks on their journey. Don’t forget to be on the constant check for weather warnings – extreme heat, black ice and flash flooding cause hazards on rural roads. Scheduling trips around weather warnings, or get in touch with the driver via in-vehicle driver device, to suggest a break to ride out an incoming storm, or consider additional protection to ward off truck fires or other electrical faults.
Two of the biggest rural risks are outside drivers’ control. Australia’s regional and rural roads themselves present significant challenges. The Monash University Accident Research Centre finds that three quarters of serious injury arise from single vehicle run-off-road crashes, usually on high-speed roads with poor safety infrastructure. Factors like fallen trees or branches, potholes, poor road surface quality, corrugation and dust all contribute to a risky driving environment.
Wildlife also poses serious risks. If you’ve ever had a kangaroo hop in front of your car out of nowhere, you know how alarming it can be. While your instinct might be to swerve suddenly out of the way, this can cause you to lose control, run yourself off the road, hit a tree or collide with oncoming traffic. If an animal does jump out in front of your car, you need to stay straight and brake.
To contend with poor road quality and unexpected wildlife interruptions, maintaining a safe speed is essential. It’s easier to make decisions and navigate around bumps in the road – literal or otherwise – when you’re driving at a speed that lets you brake and turn smoothly.
This month, take the opportunity to educate your drivers about rural road safety and how you can work together to keep everyone safe on the roads. It’s vital that we treat driving on rural roads as we would driving on city roads – both environments feature serious safety threats and require us to stay alert at all times.