Traffic on rural roads differs from traffic in the city, and the roads themselves are different. It is likely that many rural roads will always remain unsealed, so don't expect that yours might be the next one to be upgraded.
Slow and wide farm vehicles
Farm vehicles on rural roads can be slow and are often wider than normal. During seasonal harvesting periods increased numbers of trucks and other farm machinery are likely to be on the roads, delivering grain and other produce to silos and railheads.
Harvesting contractors are often on the go, moving their wide machinery around the district to the next job. You should expect some delays during harvest time, and you should always expect to see livestock trucks and milk tankers at any time of the year.
Most farmers recognise when they are holding up traffic and will often move over to allow lines of cars to pass, but they'll only do so when it is safe to take their vehicle onto the side of the road. Patience and goodwill are essential during these busy periods.
Livestock on roads
Landowners can obtain permission for their livestock to walk along roads and graze on the roadside vegetation, provided they are not left unattended and the stretch of road on which grazing is taking place is signposted at each end. Livestock also need to be moved, so you can expect to be sharing the road with farm animals from time to time.
All rural landowners who own even just a few livestock must ensure that their roadside fences are kept in good condition. Domestic livestock are not allowed to roam unattended in any direction.
Road condition and roadside vegetation
Road surfaces in rural areas are less predictable than highways and city streets. The road surface may change without warning, sharp corners may not always be sign-posted, and the crests of hills may reduce visibility.
Native vegetation adjacent to rural roads often acts as a significant wildlife habitat and refuge. This can be a problem for drivers at night, and at morning and evening twilight, when native animals move out from the shelter looking for food.
A dairy farmer had legitimately walked his cows along a section of road for 21 years, but a recent residential development at the end of the road had increased the volume of traffic significantly. Some of the new residents complained to the local council, raising road condition and safety concerns.
The issue was resolved by clear communication from the dairy farmer about what times the cattle were likely to be on the road, and by the residents either taking an alternative route around these times, or giving themselves extra travel time. The council endeavoured to monitor road conditions in light of the complaint, and informed the local community it had already implemented a road maintenance review due to the increased traffic.
These recommendations may help you better understand and cope with the nature of rural roads:
- Drive within the advised and legal speed limits and take into account the condition of the road surface.
- Be patient—expect to come across slow moving farm vehicles and animals, and accept them as legitimate road users.
- Know when seasonal harvesting operations are likely to interrupt your regular travel routes and seek alternative routes if you need to, or give yourself more travel time.
- Talk to neighbouring landholders about regular stock movements on roadways.
- Know what to expect and plan your journeys in awareness of these impediments.
- Be prepared for other active animals on roadsides and roads, especially at dusk and dawn.