Improving equine safety on Suffolk’s roads
As the number of vehicles on our roads continues to rise, all routes are becoming much more dangerous to use, especially for vulnerable road users like horse riders and carriage drivers. To limit the impact of busier roads on equestrians, a greater awareness of how to pass horses safely on the roads is required.
The British Horse Society (BHS) strives to reduce the number of incidents and fatalities involving horses and riders on all roads through their Dead Slow campaign. The aim is to educate every road user and to make drivers aware of what to do if they encounter a horse on the road.
The BHS collates statistics each year to understand the rate of incidents involving horses and riders on UK roads. In 2022, 68 equine deaths were logged via The British Horse Society’s (BHS) ‘Horse i’ app, with an additional 125 being injured and 139 human injuries. In total, the equine charity received details of 3,552 equine related road incidents in 2022, which is a notable increase on the number reported in 2021.
In the East of England, five horses were killed on the roads in 2022. Suffolk was the location of three of those fatalities, along with 50 other incidents.
Driving awareness of the Highway Code
On 29 January 2022, the Highway Code was updated to include key changes that strive to keep horses, riders, handlers and carriage drivers safer on UK roads. The new guidelines, many of which were a direct result of the BHS’s significant involvement in the Highway Code review’s stakeholder group for vulnerable road users, include setting the advisory speed for passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles at 10mph, and advising drivers to allow at least two metres of space.
Another key change was the new Hierarchy of Road Users, with horse riders now, alongside pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, recognised as road users most likely to be injured in the event of a collision.
While the new Highway Code guidance is an essential step in the right direction to protect horses and riders, there is still much more to be done to prevent the hundreds of horse and rider injuries, and even horse fatalities, reported to the BHS each year.
Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety at The British Horse Society says: “Our fear is that the key changes aren’t being clearly explained and delivered, which will be detrimental to the safety of all vulnerable road users. We need to be working collaboratively to educate and drive awareness. Only by doing this will we be able to stop these tragic road accidents from happening over and over again.”
Advice for motorists
The BHS is calling for more succinct information and awareness of the new guidelines. In line with the Highway Code, the equestrian charity is driving key behavioural messages through their Dead Slow campaign. They are urging drivers to follow four steps:
If I see a horse on the road then I will …
- Slow down to a maximum of 10mph
- Be patient – I will not sound my horn or rev my engine
- Pass the horse wide and slow, (if safe to do so) at least a car’s width if possible
- Drive slowly away
What else can you do, as a driver?
It’s essential to remember that horses are flight animals – in the wild, horses are prey animals, and this instinct is still present in domesticated horses. Their usual response to danger is flight. Horses can be unpredictable, even though most are well-trained and trust their handler. Unexpected or loud noises can startle a horse, just like they can a human.
Be prepared to stop if necessary.
- Look out for hand signals – stop or slow down if asked – this is for your own safety.
- If a rider or carriage driver is signalling to turn, wait patiently for them to complete their manoeuvre before continuing your journey.
- If you think the horse looks nervous – they may be stopped, look tense, “jogging” or moving sideways – please stop, turn off your engine and allow the horse to pass you. Please don’t start your engine or move off again until the horse is well clear of the rear end of the vehicle.
- If passing a horse from behind - heed the rider, handler or carriage driver’s signal. Only pass if safe to do so. If the horse looks nervous or the person in control of the horse is having difficulty - leave plenty of space between you and the horse and wait patiently for the horse to be under control, or for them to pull over to a safe place to pass.
- If a road is narrow and there is not enough room to pass safely as if passing another car, please approach slowly, or stop, and allow the equestrian to find a safe place off the road where you can pass safely.
- It may not always be possible for a rider or carriage driver to pull into a safe passing space. If you meet a horse head on, it can be easier for the driver to reverse to a safe passing space. If you are behind a horse, please wait patiently until there is a safe place to pass.
- Please be patient. Most equestrians will do their best to reassure their horses and will allow you to pass as soon as safe to do so.
- The safest place for the rider’s hands is on the reins, so they may only be able to nod their head as thanks to you –please be assured they are very grateful for your consideration.
- Look out for equestrian road signs – these signs indicate you are likely to encounter a horse on your journey.
What can riders do?
Horse riders have a responsibility to familiarise themselves with the Highway Code rules too, in order to make sure they follow the guidance on how they should behave on the roads and interact with other road users.
Helpful tips for riders to stay safe on the road
- Be alert at all times, keep your eyes and ears open
- Be polite - make eye contact with drivers and thank those who make any effort to accommodate you
- Wear hi-vis and reflective equipment, ideally on both you and on the horse, which could be seen from above as well as from the front, rear and side. We recommend a minimum of a tabard or jacket for a rider, and leg bands for the horse.
- Take the BHS Ride Safe Award
- Remember to use the appropriate hand signals to make other road users aware of your intentions to manoeuvre
- Be responsible
- Take a mobile phone and make sure it is charged up before you go - remember, it's not safe to use your phone when on the roads, this should be for use in emergencies
- Tell somebody where you are going and how long you think you will be out - if you don’t return, they can raise the alarm
If you are involved in an incident or near miss, then it is important to log this via the BHS’s ‘Horse i’ app and report it to the police.
Reporting your incidents will help to gather a better understanding of the rate of equine-related incidents and near misses across the UK.
To find out more about The British Horse Society and their Dead Slow campaign, visit www.bhs.org.uk/safety