Despite changes to the Highway Code nearly two years ago that includes horse riders as requiring extra care, research by the BHS estimates that only about 15 per cent of drivers know the rule changes specific to equestrians.
General updates to the Highway Code introduced a new hierarchy of road users prioritising vulnerable road users which includes pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders as well as the elderly.
New rules stipulate that vehicles should only pass a horse and rider at a maximum of 10mph, giving them at least two metres of space, and that if it's not safe meet these clearances, the driver should wait behind and not overtake. Drivers also have to stay behind a horse rider or horse drawn vehicle if following them at an approach to a roundabout or junction and they intend to turn left.
On narrow sections of road, horse riders can ride in the centre of the lane and other road users must allow them to do so. Pertinent advice is that there are three brains at work when you pass a horse - the rider’s, the driver’s and the horse’s, reminding us that horses are flight animals and can move very quickly if startled. Quite rightly, riders are also obliged to keep pedestrians safe as the object with more potential to inflict damage.
The NHS reported that between April 2019 and April 2020 in England alone, 3,298 people were admitted to hospital due to an animal-rider or animal-drawn vehicle transport incident. In contrast; Department for Transport road safety data for 2019 record only 124 people to have been involved in a road incident involving a ridden horse across England, Scotland, and Wales.
Between 1 January and 31 December 2022, 3,552 road incidents involving horses were reported to the BHS via their reporting app, a 21% increase on the previous year. Those conducting the research also found that while equestrians regularly experience negative encounters with drivers, potentially dangerous situations and near misses have become somewhat normalised, meaning underreporting of incidents is common. In reality, there are likely far more horses and riders injured on the roads.
A study published in the Journal of Safety Research shows that a massive majority of those injured are women with more than a quarter under the age of 20, while vehicle types involved in incidents where horse riders were seriously/fatally injured were mostly cars and vans/light goods vehicles.
The British Equestrian Trade Association estimates that 3 million people have ridden a horse at least once in the past year in Britain, while 1.8 million regularly ride at least once a month. As someone who grew up around horses and riding, I am pleased to join with the BHS to raise awareness about safety on the roads for horse riders.
Part of the problem with underreporting is that police data around horse riders are very patchy because a detailed analysis of incidents involving ridden horses has not previously been conducted.
Personal injury claims for horse riders are relatively few, not least since defendant drivers often cite that the horse involved was out of control, or that the horse's flight response had not been caused by their negligent actions as a driver.
Particularly pertinent to highlight during Road Safety Week and the focus on speed is that while close passing by vehicle drivers was one of the most significant contributors to collision risk between a vehicle and a horse and/or their handler, collisions and speeding were significantly more likely to result in a horse fatality.
If you have been affected by injury on the road while riding, you can contact me in confidence for initial, and free, advice about a possible personal injury claim.
Sign up to our email digest