The importance of evidence and reporting to improve our safety on roads *H&H Plus*

  • In the nearly five years since major horse and rider road safety campaigns have been launched, a great deal of progress has been made. H&H speaks to campaigners and riders to find out what is being done, and needs to be done, to keep us safer.

    COLLECTING evidence and reporting are vital if equestrians want to see real improvements to road safety, riders have been told.

    It is now close to five years since the Pass Wide and Slow and the British Horse Society’s (BHS) Dead Slow campaigns were launched, so what has happened in that time and what action is needed now to push road safety forwards?

    The statistics are shocking, with 1,037 incidents reported to the BHS’s horseincidents.org.uk site for 2019/20, particularly when these are compared to the fact an overall total of 2,000 were reported in five years between 2011 and 2016.

    While the BHS’s log stats now include incidents involving semi-feral New Forest and Dartmoor ponies (127), this does little to dent the significance of the rise.

    Yet campaigners are hopeful increased awareness of why and how to report incidents is the real reason behind the year-on-year spikes.

    BHS director of safety Alan Hiscox told H&H the charity launched the Dead Slow campaign in March 2016 owing to the “alarming increase in road incidents reported”.

    “The campaign’s aim is to educate drivers on how to pass horses safely on the road and raise awareness of the issues that horse riders face,” he said.

    He added that 2020 has been the campaign’s “most successful year so far”, with more than 100 pieces of press coverage reaching the non-equestrian audience as well as the horse world.

    “Our engagement on social media increased and we created short videos with partners, including Cycling UK and the Warwickshire police and crime commissioner, to show the different viewpoints of road safety,” he added. “More than 10,000 people requested our Dead Slow car stickers, which is incredible and we know this will create even more awareness of the Dead Slow messages.”

    There is no denying the roads are getting busier. Statistics from the Department for Transport (DfT) show there were an estimated 32.9m cars on Britain’s roads in 2019, an increase of around 1.7m from 2015. Figures from the British Equestrian Trade Association survey also show the number of regular riders has grown from 1.3m in 2015 to 1.8m in 2019.

    “We know that only one in 10 incidents are reported, so we are continuing to encourage all horse riders to report incidents to our horse incidents website,” said Mr Hiscox.

    “This is part of the reason our statistics have increased every year; more people are aware that they can report incidents to us. The more incidents that are reported to us, the stronger the voice to lobby government and work with local authorities. This year, we have worked in partnership with a number of councils and installed Dead Slow road signs in hotspot areas.

    “Most riders do not wish to be on the road in the first place. We are continuing our efforts to protect and increase access to bridleways, which provide a vital safe space for riders to do what they love.”

    He added that the BHS has still managed to “do so much for road safety” despite the challenges of 2020. This includes collaborating with other vulnerable road user groups and the DfT in a review of the Highway Code.

    “Next year, we will build on the successes we’ve had this year. We will be going out and continuing some of the other activities we usually do to support road safety,” said Mr Hiscox.

    “We will deliver more driver training for companies, attend motoring events, partner the police to hold close pass operations, as well as our road and rider safety events.”

    Road rage

    NEW research into factors associated with collisions and horse fatalities on UK roads found a “considerable proportion” of equestrians reported experiencing road rage as well as vehicles passing close and fast.

    The study, by Danica Pollard of the BHS, found close passing distances were linked with higher odds of a collision, while excess speed was connected to a higher chance of a horse fatality. It was published in peer-reviewed journal Animals (15 December).

    “Although the odds of collision-related incidents have reduced over time, driver awareness of how to pass horses safely on the roads in the UK is still lacking,” it concluded, adding that horse fatalities and rider or handler injury are “intricately linked”, and reducing the risk of injury to horses will reduce human injury and loss of life.

    “Identifying ways in which to reach the wider vehicle-driving community, helping to change their behaviour around horses, and securing funding for such projects is necessary.

    “The use of conspicuous high-visibility clothing was associated with lower collision odds and is a simple step that all equestrians can take to make themselves and their horses more visible.”

    So what is next?

    Debbie Smith, who started the Pass Wide and Slow campaign in 2015, cites rider cameras and reporting every incident as the way to drive real change.

    “I never thought it would still be going; I thought when we got to parliament the first time, that would be it,” she told H&H.

    “Riders’ attitudes are changing. I think riders now are wearing cameras and are taking it upon themselves to report incidents.

    They no longer say, ‘What’s the point?’ When I started, not many people would think about wearing a camera. I’d run a poll and it would be around five out of 100 back then. Now that figure would be closer to 50:50.”

    Mrs Smith added that changes to the law – the original focus of her campaign – are ultimately key to protecting riders, so collecting and collating as much evidence as possible is vital.

    “There are still no laws where there should be,” she said. “A car can still drive past you at 50mph on a 60mph road and not have any charges brought against them. The 15mph limit is just advice. Unless someone gets hurt, the authorities won’t bring a dangerous driving charge.”

    Although Mrs Smith welcomes the changes to the Highway Code, she is pushing for these to go further, including wording added that drivers “must” abide by riders’ stop signals and that a “slow down” rider hand signal is added that drivers must abide by.

    “The only way we are going to be protected is through law,” she said. “For me, encouraging more people to ride with a camera is the most important thing at the moment.”

    The pandemic meant many of the Pass Wide and Slow awareness rides were cancelled this year, but more than 200 are planned for 2021.

    “It would be nice to get every postcode in the UK covered,” she said, adding that she is also encouraging riders to share positive experiences where drivers have been considerate to help push change. “Every local ride raises awareness for that area and getting those in the local news and radio is the way to raise non-riders’ awareness.”

    The push for all riders to report incidents is echoed in Epsom, where racehorses and recreational riders must cross busy roads to reach the Downs, and there have been serious incidents this year.

    Improvements have been made, but the message is clear: incidents must be reported for change to happen.

    “All we can do is report every single incident, even if it’s cars going through a red light or rushing through amber, to show what’s happening,” said Camilla Swift, who escaped serious injury when the filly she was riding was startled by fast traffic and fell in December.

    “She was just lucky she wasn’t hit; we’ve always said up there when a horse gets loose, you’re listening for the cars and the braking. It was the same place it happened to Gladden [who was fatally injured] in January and a couple of months ago, a horse and lad fell there and cars drove round them.”

    Ms Swift added that while locals know there will be racehorses crossing the roads, Epsom is busy with main roads, and the public are not necessarily aware.

    “We are not riding on roads, but we have to cross them,” she said, adding that the push is not just about racehorses, but for everyone who rides in the area. “In a way the traffic lights don’t help as drivers stop for red, but they don’t stop if it’s green even if there’s something in the road.”

    The issue is not being ignored and the Jockey Club, councillors, police and horsemen are working to improve safety. There is now a barrier and a downsman at the main crossing on to the Downs, so loose horses from the training ground can be stopped before they reach the road to prevent accidents such as Gladden’s from happening again.

    Ms Swift added that further measures, as in Newmarket, where there are horse-capture areas at road crossings and light-up signs telling drivers to slow down for horses, could also help.

    “You can’t always anticipate a horse’s behaviour, but you can tell a car to stop,” she said.

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