National governments will need to invest significantly to improve the safety of rural roads to meet a collective EU target to cut road deaths by half by 2030, according to a new report by the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).

The report shows that around 10,000 people died on rural, non-motorway roads in the EU in 2022 – accounting for around half of all road deaths.

Installation of side and central barriers, removing roadside obstacles and construction of separated paths for cyclists and pavements for pedestrians are among the recommendations for safer rural roads mentioned in the report.

“Rural roads can and are being made safer with interventions that do not need to be costly,” said Jenny Carson co-author of the new report.

“Road safety audits, analysis and subsequent treatment of high-risk sites, setting and enforcing appropriate speed limits, creating separated paths for cyclists and walkers, removing obstacles at the roadside; these are a few examples of what can and should be done.  With increasing focus on urban road safety, it is critically important that policymakers don’t forget rural roads where half of road deaths occur.”

The report also includes examples of interventions that are saving lives across Europe. France, Spain and the Belgian region of Flanders have reduced the speed limits across their entire rural road networks. Sweden has invested heavily in ‘2+1’ roads, which introduce a central barrier and a safety-first design.  In Scotland, experiments with special road markings for motorcyclists to guide them through sharp turns, have achieved impressive results and in the West Pomerania region of Poland, 800 km of high-quality rural cycle routes have been built in five years.