GUIDANCE stating that horses should be passed at a maximum of 10mph and at two metres’ distance are among the “significant” improvements in proposed changes to the Highway Code.
The “statutory instrument”, which includes a number of other changes, was laid before parliament on 1 December, and is subject to a 40-day approval process. Should there be no objections, they will apply as part of the Highway Code from the end of January.
H&H has reported on the fact the Government was undertaking a review of the code, which initially did not specifically mention equestrians, but with which the British Horse Society (BHS) has since been heavily involved as a member of the Highway Code stakeholders focus group. A list of proposed amendments, published last autumn, went out to consultation and the final plans are now on the table.
BHS director of safety Alan Hiscox told H&H he is very pleased with the proposed changes.
“I was dancing a little jig when I read them!” he said. “People ask whether the DfT [Department for Transport] really listens to equestrians or considers us in the same way as cyclists, and I think this absolutely proves they do. I really think this will be a major step for the safety of horses on the roads.”
Mr Hiscox believes the most significant changes are the fact drivers are advised to “pass horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles at speeds under 10 mph and allow at least two metres’ space”, the fact equestrians are alongside cyclists in the new hierarchy of road users, the inclusion of semi-feral equids such as New Forest and Dartmoor ponies, and the fact the BHS Ride Safe award is cited.
He added that the wording around the hierarchy has been amended slightly, at his request, to clarify that equestrians and cyclists are alongside each other in the hierarchy rather than riders’ being below, as some had feared was the case.
“It mentions pedestrians first, then cyclists and riders in alphabetical order,” he said. “We’re not behind cyclists, we’re alongside them as vulnerable road users.”
Mr Hiscox said the code sets out that it is all road users’ responsibility to protect their own safety and that of all other users sharing the road, but that vehicle drivers have more responsibility to those who are more vulnerable.
The changes also include clarification that horses should never be passed on the inside; there had been concern over previous wording that some thought may allow cyclists to undertake horses but proposed guidance for cyclists states: “Do not pass pedestrians, horse riders or horse-drawn vehicles closely or at high speed, particularly from behind. You should not pass a horse on their left. Remember that horses can be startled if passed without warning. Always be prepared to slow down and stop when necessary.”
The proposals also state: “Feral or semi-feral ponies found in areas such as the New Forest, Exmoor and Dartmoor require the same consideration as ridden horses when approaching or passing.”
“I went through the changes with a fine-toothed comb and every thing I saw, I was saying ‘Yes’,” Mr Hiscox said. “This will now be what new drivers have to learn to pass the test, and it can be used in court cases. Communication of it will be key, and we’ll be part of that.
“When we started the Dead Slow campaign in 2016, I never thought we’d get this, but it’s somethingI’ve always felt passionate about, and tried to work proactively on with a lot of stakeholders. Now we need to push these changes through, with police, road safety partnerships and local authorities. It’s something we can really hang our hat on.”
Mr Hiscox thanked MP Derek Thomas as one of the first to take the matter up in parliament, and other supportive MPs.
Mr Thomas’s constituent Debbie Smith, who founded the Pass Wide and Slow awareness group in 2015, told H&H the changes are a positive step, but she would still like to see more action.
“Anything that mentions horses like this is good, but it is just guidance, it’s not a law on how fast to pass horses,” she said. “The thing I’ve always been campaigning for is for it to be a legal requirement to abide by riders’ hand signals, as the only people whose hand signals you have to obey are police and traffic wardens. We need to stop accidents happening; we shouldn’t have to wait for a horse to die or a rider to end up in hospital to prosecute a driver for not slowing down when a rider asked him to. But these are all steps along the way.”
Debbie’s current focuses are the PWAS awareness rides, of which 170 are already planned for next year, and encouraging riders to wear cameras on the roads for better reporting and recording of incidents.
“I’d like to see more but this is a step,” she added. “We’ll keep going, and keep showing the Government.”
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“There would now be an absolute definition of how road users should pass horses”
Credit: Lucy Merrell
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