Why has there been a rise in fatal road traffic accidents in the Highlands?

Car driving in the rain on country road

At the end of October, Transport Scotland released the finalised Reported Road Casualties Scotland for 2018. 

Throughout the whole of Scotland, there was an 11% rise in fatalities, with 161 people killed on our roads. Alarmingly, there was a significant increase in deaths on Highland roads. 

In 2017, 15 people tragically lost their lives in the Highlands but by 2018, this number had risen to 23.

Many of these accidents occurred on rural roads and there has been calls on the Highland Council and the Scottish Government to do more to improve road safety on these roads.

A report earlier this year by road safety charity Brake  has highlighted the dangers associated with rural single carriageway roads and the link between driver behaviour and speed limit.

On the vast majority of rural roads, the national speed limit applies. This means drivers can travel at a maximum speed of 60mph.   

Is there confusion about what the national speed limit means on rural roads? 

Is this speed limit treated as a target, rather than a limit in the best possible driving conditions?

A report by Brake confirmed that 60% of road users would feel unsafe travelling at the default 60mph speed limit on these roads and only 23% felt 60mph is safe for fear of there being people on foot, bicycles or horses. 

However, the survey of more than 1,000 drivers, found a massive 90% said they would generally aim to drive at around the limit on roads of any kind, which suggests that there is some confusion about the speed we should be travelling at.

What speed should drivers be travelling at on rural roads?

The guidance that is provided in the Highway Code is road users should consider all factors and not just the speed limit. 

At Section 125 of the Highway Code it states “that the speed limit is the absolute maximum and does not mean it is safe to drive at that speed irrespective of the conditions.” 

Drivers needs to consider road factors such as other people on the road, wildlife, weather conditions, tourists on the road – to name just a few – and adjust their speed accordingly.

What needs to be done to reduce fatal road accidents?

Brake and other safety experts and campaigners have called on the Government to review the national speed limit.

The sad reality is many people lose their lives or are seriously injured every day as a result of people travelling at 60mph on rural roads when it may not necessarily be safe to do so when the other factors are considered. 

The results of the survey from Brake certainly suggest that there is a need for further clarification from the government about how road users should interpret the limit on rural roads.

Digby Brown has helped many families in road traffic accidents on rural roads in the Highlands & Islands and wider communities following fatal accidents. Whilst the speed limit is 60mph on these roads, it should be stressed that this is the maximum speed that is allowed but not that it is always safe to do so. 

In the meantime, whether a motorist, cyclist, horse rider or tourist, we encourage everyone to be mindful of your surroundings and be mindful for each other.

We’re all just trying to get somewhere – but we all deserve to get there safely.