The Iowa Department of Transportation has recently updated the Iowa Driver's License Manual to include a section on driving rural roadways.
The manual, which is studied by most Iowans prior to getting that first license, now includes details on crop-obstructed views at rural intersections as well as how loose gravel can affect stopping distances and the driver's ability to control a vehicle.
The DOT added the information following a suggestion from a group of seventh graders, the West Branch Lifesavers, who are working to raise awareness in response to deadly crashes on rural roads in their area in the last few years.
While no fatalities were reported in 2004 on farm/residential drives or rural intersections because of obstructed views by trees or crops, 17 major injuries and 25 minor injuries were reported in a total of 63 crashes that had property damage totaling $594,236.
Last year was an especially good year on Iowa's rural roads. The state normally sees approximately three fatalities each year because of sight obstructions on rural gravel intersections and driveways.
Most rural intersections and rail crossings in rural areas are not marked with stop or yield signs.
"These intersections should always be approached with caution," said DOT safety engineer Tom Welch, "especially when the view is obstructed by crops or trees."
Welch said motorists should treat these intersections as if they had stop or yield signs posted and not enter the intersection until they are absolutely certain no vehicles are coming from the side roads or rails, and then proceed with caution.
Wet weather might make it more difficult to tell if a motor vehicle is approaching on a side road. The moisture on the gravel roadways can hold down the dust that is usually generated by oncoming vehicles. Loose gravel can also make controlling vehicles very difficult in sudden stops.
"The simple rules of keeping your speed down and exercising additional caution in areas of limited visibility are critical to safe driving in the country," added Welch.
Trains can be very difficult to spot when tall corn limits the view at a rural crossing.
Peggy Baer, director of the DOT's Office of Rail Transportation said, "Although trains are considerably taller than most crops, it still becomes difficult to see them approaching at an uncontrolled intersection where the view is obstructed."