Rural roads – should you be driving at the national speed limit?

Rural road

Our Inverness office recently discussed the rise in fatal accidents on rural roads in the Highlands. One of the main concerns from road safety groups was driver behaviour and speed on these types of roads.

On the majority of rural roads, the national speed limit of 60 mph applies. 

However, does this mean drivers should aim to drive at this speed? 

According to 90% of drivers, they would typically aim to drive at the speed limit regardless of what type of road it was. 

But, the Highway Code states that road users should consider all conditions and not just the speed limit.

Conditions to consider when driving at speed on rural roads

Unusual road occupants

On rural roads in the Highlands, the likelihood is you will not just be sharing the road with other vehicles - particularly during the summer many people can be found on foot, horses and bicycles.

These other road users may not be as visible as vehicles so more care should be taken to ensure the safety of these people AND yourself and any passengers you are responsible for.


Many rural roads are surrounded by farming or forestry ground so animals like deer, foxes, pheasants and the like can appear from time to time. 

Animals may not be visible at a distance – and often dart out in front of you – so it is important to be mindful of areas where an animal strike could be possible, and travel at a speed that allows you to safely stop or manoeuvre in time if necessary, and safe to do so.

The lie of the land

The layout of many single carriageway roads are simply not suited to high speeds, what with narrow stretches or high vegetation on the banks restricting your visibility.   

Blind bends can make it particularly difficult for drivers to be aware of fellow road users that are perhaps not in their direct line of sight. 

The Highway Code advises that you should always drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance that you can see ahead to be clear and at times travelling at the maximum speed limit could well be reckless.


Rural roads often lead to popular tourist destinations such as the “North Coast 500”. In the busy summer months road users are potentially not familiar or lack experience of driving on these carriageways. 

Local authorities in the Highlands have already made efforts to address the issue with a “Keep Left” campaign, which was set up in early 2019 after road accident happened when a tourist drove on the wrong side of the road.

Weather conditions

As we fast approach winter, we will begin to encounter ice and snow on the road and drivers should adjust their speed accordingly. 

There could be black ice on the road and it is the driver’s responsibility to be driving slow enough to spot this and react appropriately.

Low sun glare and heavy rains also impact on safety and again, drivers need to adjust their speed to ensure they can spot hazards on the road.

The national speed limit should not be a goal to achieve – it should be the absolute limit and drivers need to consider what speed is really safe to drive at. 

Saving a few minutes on your journey time is simply not worth the risk.