White van man may slow down for no one. But Carys Samuel applauds the ‘I slow down for horses’ campaign as a low-cost public relations success.
The subject of horses on the roads is one that is almost guaranteed to cause disagreement. Whilst researching this feature, I came across a forum entitled ‘Horses: are they a danger?’ The argument was over thirty posts long, with numerous complaints from characters such as ‘White truck man’ and ‘pj123’; claiming horses should pay road tax or be banned from highways altogether.
An organisation that definitely does not share these views is the British Horse Society (BHS). For over twenty years they have been campaigning for recognition and safe conditions for riders on Britain’s roads. To ‘non-horsey’ people this may seem insignificant, but with over four million UK riders, and more than 25 million vehicles on the roads, the BHS’ work is vital.
The BHS, which celebrated its Diamond Jubilee last year, is a charity funded entirely by membership and donations. Therefore all their road safety campaigns must either be sponsored or very low cost. They have produced many car stickers to support these campaigns, with perhaps the most well known being ‘I Slow Down for Horses’. This simple slogan creates an exclusive ‘club’ of motorists who are proud to drive carefully when passing horses on the road and shows recognition of equine unpredictability.
Sheila Hardy, Senior Executive Safety of the BHS, spoke of the difficulties faced by riders on the roads: “With so many people moving out of the city, having little experience of ‘country ways’, our job is to educate and explain to them the dangers that horses can pose.” Sheila has been head of safety for eight years, and as a result is very aware of ignorance where horses are concerned. “It is important that motorists read the newly-revised Highway Code, which contains advice on how to drive safely past horses.”
The BHS have many leaflets to download from their website, as well as a poster re-launching the ‘Be Seen-Be Safe’ campaign which highlights the importance of horse and rider visibility. Sheila spoke of the campaign: “There are a large number of visitors to the BHS website and by downloading two or three posters each we feel they can be distributed across a wide area very quickly at little cost.” Fluorescent clothing, which is easy and cheap to obtain, should be worn by riders at all times, as it can give vehicle drivers an extra three seconds reaction time.
One of the main problems encountered by the BHS is the lack of police interest in road accidents where horses are concerned. Unless a human goes from the scene of the accident to hospital, the police have no compulsory accident reporting process. A horse can be killed, a car written off, and there is little that can be done. The BHS have lobbied for many years to try and change this, but the authorities are not interested, they view an accident with a horse in the same way as they would a vehicle hitting any other beast or bird. As a result the BHS have an accident report form that can be completed on-line via their website, enabling a record to be kept, and statistics to be compiled. In 2002 117 accidents were reported via the BHS website: 11 riders and 33 horses had been killed and many more seriously injured.
Although the police have little interest where horse-related road accidents are concerned, they do support many of the BHS’ campaigns. This is essential in ensuring that campaigns are effective and adds authority by using a respected institution that everyone recognises. The Department for Transport is also instrumental in BHS campaigns, helping to educate and advise many motorists about the importance of driving responsibly around horses and they have provided substantial funding over a period of years, to enable training to be carried out to both Riding & Road Safety Trainers and Examiners.
The BHS also run ‘The Riding and Road Safety Test’, which is taken by more than 4,000 riders each year, helping to minimise the risks involved when riding on the roads. This training programme has won three Prince Michael International Road Safety Awards, which honours those who have contributed at the highest level to help in reducing road casualties. The road safety test is also accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority as part of the National Qualification Framework.
Bridleways and tracks are important in offering riders the opportunity to minimise the time they spend on the roads, and the BHS are currently asking people to sign an online petition asking the Government to give them a say in all new access and rights of way legislation.
I support the ‘I slow down for horses’ campaign. But since I’m likely to be on horseback, my life may depend on you heeding the message.
Photo credit: Carys Samuel