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THE horse industry has united to work together to fight the ever-increasing “daft legislation” being imposed by the Vehicle Operator Services Agency (VOSA).

Last month, H&H reported on the latest horror to hit horsebox drivers — that anyone with a full-time job is virtually banned from driving their HGV at weekends, according to VOSA’s ludicrous interpretation of transport laws (news, 5 March).

As a consequence, H&H received an enormous postbag — including correspondence from MEPs, equestrian organisations, lawyers and individual riders, all anxious to lobby for change.

“A sense test should always be applied when considering how regulations should be interpreted — and none was here,” said Graham Cory, chief executive of the British Horse Society (BHS).

As a result, H&H, the BHS, the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) and some of its member bodies and a leading equine lawyer plan to lobby the government and European Commission for either a derogation or change in the law, to ensure the horse industry escapes further bureaucracy.

VOSA is a government “enforcement service” that ensures drivers comply with road traffic legislation — much of which is set by the EU.

Equine solicitor Jacqui Fulton said: “Looking at the letter of the law, which is the only way you can get to the bottom of this, VOSA are wrong. The matter needs to be clarified — because once VOSA starts to bring prosecutions, they will get the bit between their teeth.”

Conservative MEP for the West Midlands Philip Bradbourn is a member of the transport committee in the European Parliament. He told H&H that he has “consistently” warned the UK government of the unintended consequences of the EC regulation on weekly rest periods.

“It was intended for commercial HGVs, but by default applies to the non-commercial sector,” he said. “The situation is untenable — and equestrians are not the only ones caught out by this daft piece of legislation.”

South Essex Insurance Brokers chairman Barry Fehler said the legislation was “a nonsense” from an insurance point of view, and said accidents involving horsesboxes were very rare.

“There’s no evidence that people are having accidents because they’re tired,” he said. “Most people who drive HGVs don’t go far — that’s why the premiums are so low, they’re rarely involved in crashes and do limited mileage.”

Following the H&H article, the British Driving Society (BDS) was inundated with worried callers — most members drive an HGV and trailer to accommodate horses and carriage.

Acting on his members’ concerns, BDS chairman John Parker has already held a meeting with his local MP, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Michael Lord.

“Sir Michael is a countryman and gets things done. He has written to VOSA and the Minister for Transport,” said Mr Parker. “Derogations can be got — the Territorial Army has one.”

Mr Parker said the crux of the matter is that the welfare of the horse is at stake.

“VOSA doesn’t have to prove that you did work, it’s up to you to prove you didn’t — and how do you do that? Take your payslips out when you go to a show?” he said. “And while you discuss it, the horses are waiting in the back.”

But tachographs and the European Working Time directive are only one small part of myriad transport regulations causing confusion in the horseworld. A meeting between the BEF, BHS, BDS and legal experts is now being scheduled to discuss a multipronged approach to challenging — and bringing clarity to — the legislation.

BEF chief executive Andrew Finding said: “We speak as one to bring sense to legislation that looks to be thoroughly impractical and unreasonable for sporting and recreational people alike.”

The BHS’s Graham Cory added: “We notched up a very major success when we worked with H&H on the need for an emergency services protocol (news, 30 January 2006), and I am sure we have the combined power to force a rethink.”

  • Have you been stopped by a VOSA inspector? If so please email abigail_butcher@ipcmedia.com with brief details of the incident.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (2 April, ’09)