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Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Do we have inconsiderate and impolite horse riders?

The other day my local neighbourhood policing team tweeted:

Given the absence of punctuation (Twitter only gives you 144 characters per tweet) I assumed that this is a precis rather than an entirely accurate communication.  For example, people are unlikey to report “Local officer contact”, but the capital letter A in “And” implies a fullstop before this line, and that this item might not have been part of the previous list of things reported.  Also one can assume that people are not complaining about “horses on roads” but perhaps about the behaviour of horses (or riders?) on roads.  After all horses (or rather riders) have the right to use our roads; they pay road tax like all the rest of us:

While the majority of motorists slow down when they see a horse (a startled horse can do a lot of damage); some motorists have entitlement issues, believing horses shouldn’t be on the public highway. To such motorists, the only modes of transport that should be allowed on roads are those equipped with motors. Cyclists, horse riders, and pedestrians have no right to be on the road, say they. The belief is that only motorists pay for roads so only motorists are entitled to use roads. This is a commonly held, but mistaken, belief. Motorists don’t pay for roads directly and, even if they did, vehicle excise duty and fuel taxes wouldn’t be enough to pay for all the externalities that mass motoring brings in its wake.

Some motorists believe that ‘road tax’ pays for roads. As cyclists and horses don’t pay ‘road tax’, they have lesser rights to use roads, or no rights at all. This is not an accusation plucked out of thin air. Motoring forums are chock full of Clarkson-clones, happy to advertise their prejudices against “freeloaders”. Similarly, on Twitter, you don’t have to search too hard to find motorists with entitlement issues.

The article goes on to give some examples

Later, when asked to clarify what the complaint concerning the horses was the local police team stated:

Now in my humble view this sounds like an ignorant complaint.  The horses are entitled to use the public highway as much as any other road user.  Furthermore, it is almost certain that the horse riders would halt and allow the cars to pass as soon as it was safe for them to do so.  The fact that they were riding two abreast is probably because even if they were in single file during that stretch of the road it would not have been safe for the cars to overtake them

Section 53 of the Highway Code, states:

Before riding off or turning, look behind you to make sure it is safe, then give a clear arm signal.

When riding on the road you should:

  • keep to the left
  • keep both hands on the reins unless you are signalling
  • keep both feet in the stirrups
  • not carry another person
  • not carry anything which might affect your balance or get tangled up with the reins
  • keep a horse you are leading to your left
  • move in the direction of the traffic flow in a one-way street
  • never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends
The guideline to never ride more than two abreast (and to ride in single file in certain circumstances) recognises the frequent need for horse riders to ride two abreast.  One of the reasons comes later, in section 215:

Horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles. Be particularly careful of horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slowly. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse or rider. Look out for horse riders’ and horse drivers’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Take great care and treat all horses as a potential hazard.

Clearly one needs to read both of these sections together, and consider the other sections where motorists are urged to recognise and respect the needs of vulnerable road users (“road users requiring extra care”), such as pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists, animals, horse riders and horse-drawn vehicles, older drivers, learners and inexperienced drivers, powered vehicles used by disabled people, and the sections which emphasise the need to respect home zones where children play and community events occur.

I realise that I am making general points in response to a specific incident, which I don’t know the details of. I am trying to address the general prejudice that exists (against non-vehicular traffic) even if this particular complaint wasn’t borne of ignorance. I am stressing that less vulnerable road users need to respect and give way to vulnerable road users, and that life would be more enjoyable for everyone if we could all be a little patient, slow down, and share the road. 

The key principle at stake in most areas where different types of road users come into conflict is covered in the Introduction to Section 103 to 158 of the Highway Code:

The rules in The Highway Code do not give you the right of way in any circumstance, but they advise you when you should give way to others. Always give way if it can help to avoid an incident.

In the video above I demonstrate how, when cycling, I stop for horses and move aside, waiting for them to pass.  I follow the exact same principle when driving a car, since the horse riders are more vulnerable than me. My suggestion to other motorists is that those horses (or cyclists, pedestrians, children, etc) will slow you down for only a few minutes. Enjoy those minutes, and the calm, before you rush on to join the back of the next traffic jam.  And to put that delay in perspective: most traffic jams are actually caused by other motor vehicles, not horses!

Posted by bigblue on 14/05/2013 at 08:14 AM
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