The current spotlight on the Highway Code is an opportunity that should not be missed to keep equestrians safer, believes one rider, who is championing working with drivers to help them understand a different perspective.
Devon Storey, from East Yorkshire, has been taking the opportunity of road safety being in the public eye to try to help educate drivers. Not only on the appropriate way to pass horses but on issues such as why this is the case, and why riders have to use the roads at all.
Devon told H&H she is trying to build relationships, by increasing drivers’ understanding, and help change what can seem to be an “us against them” mentality.
“We’ve got such an opportunity at the moment and I think we’re missing it,” she said.
Devon said she did not ride on the roads for some years, after some bad experiences, but when her part-bred standardbred gelding Prince was diagnosed with arthritic changes in his hocks last year, hacking became a big part of his rehab plan.
“It became really frustrating that a lot of drivers were passing us unsafely so I started trying to raise awareness,” she said. “I started trying to raise awareness about road safety and speaking to people at work gave me insight into how little people who don’t have or ride horses actually understand.”
As well as sharing hatcam footage from her rides, Devon has written a series of posts for social media, explaining issues such as the lack of access to off-road riding, and answering common points raised by drivers such as “road tax”.
She said her posts have had a very positive response, and she has since written a piece for a local magazine and appeared on local television, and a local newspaper was due to print an article.
“I’ve been approaching the topic in a sympathetic and approachable manner, trying to improve knowledge and humanise horse riders, who seem to have earned an unjust stereotype,” she said. “It is my hope that the changes will not only improve safety on the roads, but allow us to open up communications with non-horsey drivers and change the current status quo from an ‘us against them’ mentality into a more harmonious relationship.”
Devon says she replies to comments on her own and related posts in a non-confrontational manner, answering questions and explaining issues, which she believes is key in all dealings with drivers.
“It’s like saying thank you; it may only have been a few seconds out of someone’s day but that’s a few seconds that driver’s given someone they don’t know, and if thanking them helps them think riders are friendly and to slow down next time, do it; all you have to do is smile and nod, and it’s an easy thing to do to improve safety,” she said. “It’s positive reinforcement, just like I do with my horse!”
Devon believes arguing over who has “more right” to be on the road, or who was “there first”, as can be seen in online discussions on the topic, do not help in building a harmonious relationship.
“It doesn’t help to argue over things like that,” she said. “These Highway Code changes are a really good opportunity to open conversations and communication, and get the message out there; it’s not just that the guidance has changed, it’s that everyone is talking about it.”
Devon added that most drivers will not know what being passed too fast on a horse feels like, nor how fast 30mph, for example, feels to the person standing on the road.
“It must be so hard to comprehend if you’ve never sat on a horse,” she said. “My other bugbear is high-vis; there’s no reason not to wear it. It can give a driver a few extra seconds to see you and react, but you’re also showing people you’re taking your and your horse’s safety as seriously as we’re asking them to. It may only be guidance to wear it but the Highway Code is guidance too, and if you push the guidance of the Highway Code, it’s a two-way thing.
“I want to ask riders to take the stance of education and relationship-building rather than confrontation. If we are to plead with drivers to observe the new guidance, I think providing them with the knowledge and perspective that they can’t possibly be expected to comprehend is vital.”
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