Proposals to lower speed limits at UK accident blackspots have been welcomed by the horse industry.

New proposals, set out on Tuesday, 21 April, by Department for Transport (DfT) road minister Jim Fitzpatrick, will enable councils to reduce speed limits from 30mph to 20mph in urban areas and from 60mph to 50mph on single-carriageway roads.

And local councils will be encouraged to reduce speed limits in their areas — focusing on accident blackspots.

According to DfT statistics, there were no rider deaths on the roads in 2007 — but there were 127 rider casualties, with 20 of these classified as serious.

Mark Weston, director of access safety and welfare at the British Horse Society (BHS), has welcomed the proposals.

“Rural roads are the ones riders use most for exercising and accessing the fragmented equestrian rights of way network,” he said.

Anton Phillips, Hampshire Fire and Rescue animal rescue specialist, added: “We attend a number of incidents involving horses and road traffic accidents.

“Anything that controls speed and helps the overall safety of the animals can only be a positive thing.”

The aim of the DfT’s proposal is to cut road deaths by a third in the next decade.

“We’ve already made real improvements,” said Mr Fitzpatrick. “But we want to make Britain’s roads the safest in the world. That will mean improving vehicles and the road network as well as helping drivers and other road users to be as safe as possible.”

The proposals also outline a major overhaul in driver training and testing processes.

Kayti Harvey, event co-ordinator for BHS Hampshire, told H&H: “I welcome any initiative that encourages drivers to slow down. I also feel that as riders and carriage drivers we need to take our responsibility seriously by wearing hi-vis gear to give drivers every chance to see us.”

But some riders are concerned drivers will not alter their habits. One H&H forum user wrote: “You can set the speed limit to 10mph on all roads, but that still won’t stop those people who don’t think it applies to them. Rural areas are not race tracks, but places where people work and live.”

Earlier this year, riders petitioned Stockton Borough Council after two horses died on the Seamer Road in six months (news, 22 January).

Now a spokesman for the council has told H&H: “We are in talks with Middlesbrough and North Yorkshire councils to lower the speed limit to 40mph from 60mph.”

• A Safer Way: Consultation on Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World, closes on 14 July. To view visit: www.dft.gov.uk/roadsafetyconsultation

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (30 April, ’09)