How many motorists know how to pass a horse safely on a road? According to a recent survey commissioned by motoring and driving school organisation the AA, one in 10 motorists is unaware of how to handle an equine encounter.

The survey questioned 23,700 motorists in January and 8% of drivers said they did not know how to pass a horse safely on the road. This figure rose to more than one in 10 among young drivers aged 18 to 24 (13%) and drivers in London (12%).

One in 20 (6%) have had a “near miss” with a horse and rider. And a shocking 17% said they thought horses should not be on the roads at all.

The accident rate tallies with this. Already this year 48 incidents on the roads have been reported to the British Horse Society (BHS). Last year there was a total of 201 reports — up from 176 in 2012.

“I have had several near misses and I always wear hi-viz to make sure people see me,” said H&H reader Kate Nichols. “Last summer I was riding along a road that is only a few minutes from home, I had a learner driver — not in a driving school car — come up behind me.

“Not only did they not give me any room, they went past me so close to my horse’s back legs that I don’t know how the driver did not hit us. How can this be teaching learner drivers to pass horses correctly?”

Educating drivers

The AA already recommends drivers “slow right down and be ready to stop, give horses a wide berth — at least a car’s width — and pass them slowly. Avoid any actions likely to spook the horse, splashing through puddles, sounding your horn or revving your engine.”

The Highway Code, rule 215, states that drivers should be “particularly careful” of riders. “Take great care and treat all horses as potential hazards,” it warns.  But it does not elaborate on the speed with which horses can move or shy.

Now the AA is actively trying to educate drivers — by launching a new web page specifically addressing how to approach riders and including it in teaching. Instructors will explain how to approach and pass horses in  lessons and encourage learners to visit the new web page.

Learner drivers will not always come across a horse in their lessons, particularly if they live in an urban area, so it is important this topic is covered,” said Jim Kirkwood, managing director of AA Driving School.

“Many drivers will feel intimidated by a horse on the roads. Understanding what to do, and why riders do certain things, will help keep frustrations at bay on both sides.”

In the past year H&H has reported on many serious road accidents involving horses and cars.

Last August a 9-year-old boy and his mother were injured after the child’s pony was struck by a car, which didn’t stop, in West Sussex. The same month a teenager was injured and her horse killed following a collision in North Yorks.

In January a woman died after being hit by a vehicle when leading her horse on a B road in Dumfriesshire.

The BHS has praised the AA’s proactivity.

We are delighted that the AA has taken the initiative to promote safer driving around horses through its driving schools and membership,” said Sheila Hardy of the BHS. “It would be wonderful if other agencies took their lead, encouraging all road users to take responsibility for the safety of each other.”

The women who called for change

The call for awareness to be raised around horse safety came from 3 AA Driving School instructors — Emma Gatfield, Worcester, Jo Rawlins, Bristol, and Andrea Gordon, Staines. They felt there was not enough advice readily available for drivers. Ms Gatfield is a rider as well as driving instructor.

“For learners, it can be intimidating to suddenly be faced with a horse and rider, and for riders it can be a scary experience if someone drivers irresponsibly around you. It was clear to me that more could be done to try to help drivers understand.”

Ms Gordon added that “just a little understanding would go a long way”.

“Drivers don’t need to become experts in horse behaviour, but getting information out about what to do is really important. I hope that by publicising these issues we will achieve this,” she said.

Take responsibility

However, riders are reminded to help themselves — by wearing hi-viz clothing and being polite to motorists. Many H&H readers expressed frustration towards fellow riders who are inconsiderate.

“When I am driving, I quite often wait behind riders until it is safe to pass. I slow right down and pass wide, but the majority of time I don’t even get an acknowledgement,” said H&H reader Danielle Dawson.

“It’s such a shame that riders have a bad reputation, but I think riders often only have themselves to blame.”

For more information visit: www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/safety/horses-and-drivers

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (29 May, 2014)