Updated speed limit guidance to help local authorities improve safety on their roads was published for consultation on Friday (13 July).
Road safety minister Mike Penning said the guidance provided up-to-date advice to aid greater consistency of speed limits on local roads across England.
"It is vital that speed limits are suitable for local conditions and councils are best placed to determine what these limits are, based on local knowledge and the views of the community."
The national speed limit on the rural road network is 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways.
In 2010, 68% of road deaths in Britain occurred on rural roads, and 49% of road deaths occurred on single rural carriageway roads subject to the 60mph national speed limit.
The consultation suggests a 40mph limit be considered on single carriageway rural roads where there are many bends, junctions, access points or substantial development.
It says a 40mph limit should also be considered where there is a a strong environmental or landscape reason, or where there are considerable numbers of vulnerable road users.
On C roads and unclassified routes, the consultation suggests a 40mph limit where the road has a predominantly local, access or recreational function.
Examples are roads in national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
The guidance also incorporates recent changes that give local authorities increased flexibility to implement 20mph limits and zones where doing so improves road safety and quality of life.
"Road safety is a top priority," said Mr Penning.
The aim was to help councils make evidence based decisions to introduce local speed limits that reflected the needs of all road users, he added.
A new speed limit appraisal website – due to be launched later this year – will help authorities assess the impact of any change to a speed limit in their area.
It comes the National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs unveiled plans for a national safety campaign to encourage young people to drive more safely on rural roads.
A recent report by the Road Safety Analysis found that young male drivers are 37% more likely to be injured in a road accident if they drive in the countryside.
Young rural drivers in remote rural locations cover 31% more miles a year.
Combined with their relative inexperience on often dangerous country roads, younger rural drivers they at a higher risk of an accident than many other motorists.
The guidance is aimed at local authorities in England. The consultation document is here.
The consultation does not seek views on the national limits of 30mph on street lit roads, 60mph on single carriageway roads and 70mph on dual carriageways and motorways.
Final guidance is expected to be published by the end of the year.