Despite this, the public rights of way network in England and Wales continues to shrink, resulting in more horse riders having to ride on busy roads in order to travel between bridleways and multi-user routes. With the number of vehicles increasing, and the speed at which they travel, roads are becoming more challenging for all vulnerable road users, especially equestrians.
In 2021, 2,943 incidents were reported to the British Horse Society (BHS). Compared to 2020, this is an increase of over 2,000 cases. Looking at these figures, it is clear that a change in attitude towards horse riders, horse-drawn vehicles and other vulnerable road users is more important than ever.
As an equine charity, the BHS worked closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) to get our Dead Slow behavioural change messages into the latest Highway Code changes. We are informing, involving, guiding and persuading drivers to adhere to these four important points:
If I see a horse on the road, then I will…
- Slow down to a maximum of 10mph
- Be patient – I won’t sound my horn or rev my engine
- Pass the horse wide and slow (if safe to do so), at least two metres distance
- Drive away slowly.
We also want to help drivers understand that horses are flight animals, which means that they may react when they see something they are unsure of... A bird flying out from a hedge, a stray bag drifting across the road, or the sound of your engine could startle a horse. That’s why it is essential to give a horse plenty of space, and drive slowly to allow the horse time and room to react.
The BHS also reminds riders how important it is to acknowledge drivers who pass safely, using hand signals to say thank you. If both hands need to be on the reins, then a nod and smile will show the driver that their actions are appreciated.
It’s recommended that riders wear hi-viz all the time when riding out too, no matter what time or day or weather conditions. As a minimum, riders should wear a hi-viz jacket or tabard and the horse should have hi-viz leg bands on. The report the BHS commissioned by the Transport Research Laboratory, entitled ‘Conspicuity of horses and riders on the road’, offers a basis for advice regarding the topic of visibility when on public roads.
Equestrians are vulnerable road users, sitting in the same Highway Code Hierarchy Group as cyclists and motorcyclists, and with understanding and consideration on all sides, there’s room for everyone to use the roads in harmony and safety.
By Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety at The British Horse Society. To learn more about The British Horse Society’s road safety campaigns or to report a road-related incident, go to www.bhs.org.uk/deadslow