Self-driving cars could be key to preventing New Forest pony deaths

  • Campaigners determined to reduce the number of New Forest ponies being killed on the road have suggested using in-car technology to improve their safety.

    Despite a drop in the numbers of ponies killed on the roads in the New Forest in recent years, work continues to protect the native animals.

    Last year, 63 ponies died as a result of vehicle collisions in the area, compared to 87 in 2006 and 114 in 1996.

    However, local campaigners are unrelenting in their battle to further reduce the numbers of equines being hurt and have suggested harnessing modern technology to improve safety.

    Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management and learning at the New Forest National Park Authority, said he would like to see in-car technology trialled in the area, such as self-driving cars that would register the ponies’ presence and brake, or vehicles with the ability to notify the driver of oncoming hazards.

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    Mr Matthews invited car manufacturers to use the forest to develop their software in a recent interview on BBC Radio Solent.

    “Let’s have a test on a New Forest road — what would it do when it sees a pony standing beside the road?” he said. “Can it work out if that pony is going to step out into the road, which humans find pretty much impossible?

    “That technology could work in the dark and we know a lot of accidents in the forest happen at night.”

    The authority is also continuing to promote further awareness among drivers of how to avoid accidents around the ponies.

    “It’s all about driver behaviour,” Matt Stroud, communications officer for the New Forest National Park Authority, told H&H. “Just as when passing riders on horseback, cars should slow right down and pass all animals wide and slow.

    “A lot of drivers think that as long as they don’t drive faster than 40mph, the speed limit, they will be fine and it doesn’t matter where you are.

    “We often say that the ponies have the road sense of a two-year-old — they will step out into the road even if they have seen you.”

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