OPINION: ‘Much work to do’ to reduce collisions involving horses

09.19 | 7 March 2024 | | 5 comments

In this latest opinion piece, Alan Hiscox, director of safety at The British Horse Society, outlines the importance of passing horses safely on our roads. 

We have seen first-hand the terrible consequences of what can happen to horses when a car passes by too quickly and closely. Every day, we speak to, and receive reports from, members of the public who have been involved in a road incident with their horse. Sadly, these can end tragically. 

In 2023 alone, 66 horses and three equestrians were killed on our roads. Overall, nearly 3,400 equine related road incidents were recorded via our Horse i app last year, with 85% of those occurring because a driver passed by too closely or quickly.

But, what can we do to stop these incidents from happening? A big step will be ensuring greater awareness. As part of our Dead Slow road safety campaign, we continue to inform and involve road users on how to pass horses as well as how impactful passing horses in an unsafe way can be. 

This includes making more road users aware of the power of a startled horse and how a collision on our roads can not only lead to a horse being injured, but also the rider or carriage driver, motorist, or even the passenger in the vehicle too. 

We want people to recognise that horses are flight animals, and their instinctive response to danger is to react and move quickly away. Even the most experienced and well-trained horses can be startled by unexpected movements or loud noises, like a car passing at great speed. 

With all that in mind, it is incredibly important for all road users to pass horses safely, following the advice set out in the Highway Code for passing equestrians.

The guidelines, which were a direct result of the BHS’s involvement in the Highway Code Review Stakeholder Group, align with our key Dead Slow behavioural messages. Included is an advisory speed of 10mph for passing people riding horses or driving horse-drawn vehicles and asking drivers to leave at least two metres of space.

While we recognise and greatly thank all those road users who continue to follow this Highway Code guidance, it is clear that there is much work to do to make sure tragic incidents reduce dramatically.

Alan Hiscox

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible for equestrians to stay off the roads due to the shrinking bridleway network. That is why we are really working hard to make sure we all play our part to keep everyone safe.

Alongside, slowing down to a maximum of 10mph and allowing at least two metres of space upon seeing a horse on the road, we’re also asking roads users to: 

  • Heed a rider or carriage driver’s signal if they ask you to stop or slow down.
  • If a rider or carriage driver is signalling to turn, wait patiently for them to complete their manoeuvre before continuing your journey. If the horse(s) show signs of nervousness as you get closer, please stop and/or turn the engine off and allow them to pass.
  • Please don’t start your engine or move off again until the horse(s) has moved away.
  • If a road is narrow and there is not enough room to pass safely, please approach slowly, or stop to give them time to find a gateway or other place off the road where there will be enough space between the horse and vehicle to allow you to pass safely.
  • Please be patient. Most equestrians will do their best to reassure their horses and will allow you to pass as soon as it’s safe to do so.
  • The safest place for the rider’s hands is on the reins, so they may only be able to nod their head to you – but please do be assured that they will be very grateful for your consideration.
  • Look out for equestrian road signs – these signs indicate you are likely to encounter a horse on your journey.

The onus isn’t just on drivers, it’s important that equestrians take key steps when out on the roads with their horses too. This includes wearing conspicuous clothing and equipment as well as using the appropriate signals to make other road users aware of their intentions to manoeuvre.

If a rider experiences a driver going past too fast or close, we also recommend that they record it via our Horse i app. The more incidents that are recorded, the more that can be done to protect the rights of equestrians on Britain’s roads.

Unfortunately, far too many lives have been lost over the last 10 years on our roads and we all have a responsibility to stop this from happening. With your help, we can work collaboratively to drive awareness in order to make sure our roads are safer for future generations to come. 



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    Just a small point based on my observations when I was cycling recently (and this isn’t intended to be victim-blaming) but if a horse rider wears a helmet, it is worthwhile making sure that the strap is done up.

    Mike Motteram, Ipswich
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Gillian and Judy are absolutely right but whilst horse riders are potentially highly vulnerable, partly because horses can be skittish animals, the basic issue, as David has implied is that drivers are generally not inclined to slow down and/or to the right extent when it would be either prudent or, considerate to do so. And most do not either know or understand within HC126 you should be able to pull up in the ‘distance you can see to be clear’. That should not be a blue smoke job, but comfortably and in good time. Another basic issue is that most driver are not by a very large degree looking and thinking far enough ahead which means they often get into situations just though basic lack of thought and attentiveness.

    ‘Much work to do’?. Yes, but recognising the need and being willing to slow down is just part of the general malaise and the first part of a strategy should be to (if somewhat bluntly – because that seems to be the only way that many road users understand) get drivers and riders (vehicular in particular) to take ownership of their own safety and situation on the roads; that if something goes wrong they generally (that’s over 90%) got themselves into the situation in the first place.

    It’s a generic problem which (in the wrong sense of the word) comes to fruition amongst the most vulnerable road users. And please make it, ‘2 metres, MINIMUM!’.

    Nigel ALBRIGHT, Taunton
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    Too many country lanes are 60mph encourages drivers to go too fast,then they can’t stop when a situation arises often ending in tragedy. More driver training, so many think it’s their right to drive how they want, and horses shouldn’t be on the roads.

    Gillian hall, Lincoln
    Agree (4) | Disagree (2)

    Sadly,patience seems to be lacking in a large number of road situations. I do wonder how today’s Drivers are taught because most seem to drive so fast ; do not ever anticipate a problem ,occurance or reaction.
    Speed and impatience seem to be rife among so many.

    Judi.Best, Tunbridge Wells
    Agree (7) | Disagree (1)

    The Highway Code is unequivocal in its advice about how other road users should treat horses and riders. It is shocking and depressing in equal measure that this alone is not enough to encourage drivers to do as they should.

    I regularly deliver cyclist training to children and the way in which some drivers treat them is disgraceful. Driving today for many people is entirely selfish and short of arming riders, I don’t see how we might persuade some drivers to consider others. Sadly, I feel that society is becoming less empathetic year by year.

    David Daw, Bury St Edmunds
    Agree (12) | Disagree (0)

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