Safety First

8 tips for safe driving on country roads

Driving in the country has its own unique challenges.

Photo by Sergiy Trofimov Photography/Getty Images

Tis the season for getting stuck driving behind a tractor. Country roads have their plusses and minuses - the scenery, the lack of traffic, the ability to push the speed limit. But, they also come with their own set of safety hazards. New guidance from GEM Motoring Assist gives drivers safety tips for navigating back roads. Plus, we threw in a few top tips of our own.

"Driving in the countryside is usually a great pleasure, with good views, quiet roads and a variety of interesting terrain," said GEM chief executive Neil Worth. "But country roads are used by many different people and vehicles, so it's vital to look for the clues – some obvious, others less so – as to what might be round the next bend."

Rule #1: Expect the unexpected

According to Neil Worth, country road hazards may be unique. "What's round the corner on a rural road with restricted visibility? It could be another car or a motorcycle coming towards you too fast, a group of cyclists on a ride out, sheep or cattle crossing the road, a horse and rider, a wild animal, a slow-moving farm tractor…

"Until you have perfect sight of what's ahead, you need to be ready to anticipate what could be there. By adjusting your speed and position accordingly, you're doing your bit to keep yourself and the other road users safe."

Rule #2: Mud can be a sign of what's to come

If you see mud on the road, expect to see slow-moving farm vehicles. Sometimes you'll get lucky and see them in the lane. Other times, tractors enter the roadway from a pasture or field unexpectedly and can be obstructed from view by crops or animals.

Rule #3: Watch for fresh cut grass.

If you smell or see fresh-cut grass, there's a good chance that there's a mower nearby. Whether it's the local department of transportation doing their work in the median on a highway or the side of a thoroughfare, or a resident cutting their lawn, it's important to remember that they may veer into the roadway to get their job done.

Rule #4: Don't stop but smell the manure.

Usual the smell of manure has you reaching for the air circulation options on your dashboard, and rightly so. Smelling manure is a sign that livestock is nearby. Plops in the roadway may mean that there is a horse ahead, either being ridden, pulling a buggy, or on the loose.

Rule #5: Watch out for garbage cans.

If you live in the suburbs, you know how a strong wind can make garbage bins go flying around your neighborhood. Make the wind stronger, give it a clear path, and you're now seeing one of the finer points of country living. When you see garbage bins on the curb on a windy day, pay heed, they may come your way.

Also, having bins on the curb means that it either is trash day or that trash day is tomorrow. Either way, pay attention for stopped and slow-moving garbage trucks along your route.

Rule #6: Make room if you can.

Country roads can be especially narrow, with just barely enough for two vehicles to pass each other. When a vehicle approaches in the opposite direction, it is appropriate to slow on my narrow paths to determine if you'll both fit. Don't be afraid to be the one to pull off to the side to let another vehicle pass, as long as you can do so safely.

If you encounter a horse rider on the road, drive very slowly and give the horse a wide berth. It's important to not frighten the hose, only passing when you're able to safely do so.

Rule #7: Beware the bumpy road.

Not all country roads are paved. Bumpy dirt roads don't just kick the dust up, they can easily hide potholes, drops, and sharp rocks.

Rule #8: Keep your head up for cyclists.

Country roads don't traditionally offer sidewalks or bike paths. Cyclists don't always travel in packs and when moving at speed, can be hard to see against sunshine. Like with horses, give cyclists a wide birth and slow your speed when passing. The wind movement from a passing vehicle can be enough to knock a cyclist off their bike.

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Highway safety

U.S. roadway fatalities up in 2021

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released its estimates on traffic fatalities for the first quarter of 2021 and the numbers aren't promising. In the first quarter of this year alone, 8,730 people died in motor vehicle crashes. Last year's cumulative numbers weren't much better, coming in higher than any year since 2007.


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The grim statistics represent a 10.5 percent increase from the same time period last year, a time when we were already marveling at the numbers. Further data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicate that the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased by 2.1 percent, which makes the increase in fatalities all the more striking a statistic. Initial projections pegged the number of fatalities per 100 million VMT at 1.12, but it instead climbed to 1.26 fatalities per 100 million VMT.

Regionally, most areas in the United Statessaw an increase, though two did not. The Midwest region, which includes Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Arkansas did not change, while the mid-east coast states of North Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia actually saw a six percent decline in fatality counts.


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What's behind all of this? Last year, the NHTSA reported that, with fewer people on the roads, those that were driving were engaging in risky behavior. What's more, Automotive News reports, that the number of deaths involving people not wearing seatbelts increased 15 percent last year and speeding deaths climbed 10 percent.

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Both the Jetta and Jetta GLI are refreshed for 2022.

Volkswagen

Volkswagen is busy in 2021. The automaker has a brand-new SUV in its lineup and is implementing tech updates for almost all of its vehicles. The venerable Jetta sedan is one of them, but along with new tech, the car receives a new engine and updated safety features for the 2022 model year.


2022 Volkswagen Jetta The Jetta GLI gets standard projector LED headlights.Volkswagen


The 2022 Jetta gets the new turbo-four that powers VW's freshman SUV, Taos. It's a 1.5-liter unit that makes 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. The Jetta GLI is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available.

Both cars are based on VW's MQB platform, but the GLI gets additional go-fast chassis and handling components. Like its spiritual cousin, the Golf GTI, the Jetta GLI carries a VAQ electronically-controlled torque-sensing limited-slip differential. That extremely hyphenated component works with the car's XDS Cross Differential System and DCC adaptive dampers to help keep things tidy when the driver puts their right foot down.


2022 Volkswagen Jetta The Jetta comes standard with a digital gauge cluster.Volkswagen


Styling updates include new front and rear bumpers with a new grille and chrome trim pieces. The GLI features a signature red accent strip and a honeycomb lower fascia. The standard Jetta gets LED headlights and daytime running lights, while top Jetta trims and the Jetta GLI get projector LEDs.

New standard tech headlines the cars' interior updates and include a standard digital gauge cluster, measuring eight inches for the Jetta and ten inches for the Jetta GLI. The Digital Cockpit system can display maps, audio information, and other data from the car's infotainment system. Top Jetta trims and the Jetta GLI also come with VW's MIB3 infotainment software, which brings wireless charging and wireless app connectivity.


2022 Volkswagen Jetta New safety tech is available for the 2022 Jetta.Volkswagen


The Jetta's standard and available safety technologies also get an overhaul for 2022. Front assist, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts are now standard, while Volkswagen's IQ.DRIVE safety package is available for some cars and is standard for the GLI. The package includes a lane-keeping system, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a semi-automated driving assistance system, and a semi-automated medical emergency vehicle assistance system.

Pricing details for the 2022 Volkswagen Jetta have not yet been released. The automaker expects the cars to begin arriving on dealers' lots in the fourth quarter of 2021.

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