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Serious injury lawyer's advice to keep horse riders and other rural road users safe this Road Safety Week

Road Safety week’s theme this year is “Let's talk about Speed” and the implications arising from excessive speed.  Unfortunately, this is a cause of many road related incidents involving horse riders and the statistics available are concerning. 

What are the statistics

British Horse Society data obtained from those who report incidents reveals that 79% of the incidents reported between January 2022 and January 2023, recorded that a vehicle passing them at excessive speed was involved. This was a 4% increase on the previous year.  This is despite the changes to The Highway Code which came into force in January 2022 and now states that drivers should:-

  • slow down to a maximum of 10 mph. 
  • Be patient, and not to sound the horn or rev the engine. 
  • When it is safe to do so, pass wide and slow, allowing at least 2 metres of space.

The British Horse Society data also revealed that 83% of incidents reported involved vehicles passing too close. This is comparable to the previous year.   

The Dead Slow campaign

The British Horse Society's Dead Slow campaign is focused on safer drivers, riders and horses.  

Alan Hiscox, director of safety at the British Horse Society said: "We inform and involve drivers on how to pass horses safely, especially concentrating on the Highway Code changes. 

"Unfortunately only a very small number of drivers are aware of the changes specific to equestrians. At some large motoring shows only 6% of drivers knew the advice to pass horses at under 10mph and at two-metre distance. Speeds on rural roads, where most horses are ridden, are still far too high and this causes significant challenges to equestrians with far too many serious incidents occurring.”

60% believe it's acceptable to speed on rural roads

Brake, the road safety charity confirmed that in a survey conducted with Direct Line 6 in 10 drivers thought it was acceptable to drive above the speed limit on rural roads and almost half of the drivers confirmed that they had driven faster than the speed limit on a single carriageway rural road. 

Three people a day die on rural roads

The RAC Foundation has also reported that 59 per cent of all fatalities occurred on rural roads in 2022. About three people die each day on average on rural roads and the number of people killed on country roads was more than 10 times higher than on motorways in 2022. 

Hazards of rural roads

The statistics show that rural roads, which are the roads which are most likely to be used by horse riders are the roads where the higher proportion of collisions occur.   

Rural roads have hazards and risks which may not be as relevant when driving on motorways or roads in urban areas.  

For example visibility of the road ahead is often more reduced on rural roads because of the lay out of the roads, involving narrow lanes, high hedges and sharp corners.   

A driver may not be aware of a hazard ahead until the last minute and this may reduce reaction time.  This coupled with excessive speed can often have tragic or life changing consequence. Other hazards can include mud on the road, slow moving vehicles which are obscured and hidden entrances and exits to properties and fields. 

Road safety advice

There are a lot of simple steps which horse riders can take to try and reduce the risk of injury to themselves or their horses.  These include:-

  • Wearing high viz clothing  - being more visible and noticeable by drivers sooner, allows a greater reaction time for them to reduce their speed and  adjust their driving or stop, if necessary.   Dark clothing and most horses’ colour can increase the possibility of a horse rider blending into their surroundings, whereas high viz clothing on the rider and high viz items on the horse increases the chances of the horse and rider being seen earlier by motorists which increases the chances of them being able to slow down and pass the rider wide and slow.
  • Staying alert to your surroundings and looking out for possible hazards and taking action to avoid them, where possible.  This will reduce the chances of being caught off guard by your horse reacting to something you haven’t anticipated and also so that you can signal in advance to other road users when required.  It's important to remember that many road users will not be familiar with horses and how they may react to something, so as a horse rider if you can assist with alerting drivers to the fact that you may need them to stop and wait whilst you ride past something which may spook your horse and cause it to jump into the road, then this could help in these situations.
  • Using clear signals when communicating your intention to turn left or right and asking drivers to stop.  It is important to do this so that there can be no confusion or misunderstanding of your intentions.
  • Ensuring that you are using the correct equipment and tack is in good working order.
  • Try to avoid using the roads at busy times where possible, or at dusk, due to poor visibility. 

The need to know what the rules of The Highway Code

The above steps may help to improve horse rider safety when using the roads. In addition to this, there needs to be more publicity about the rules in the Highway Code and awareness by other road users about the reasons why the rules are in the Code.  

This is in part to help improve the road safety of horses, but also to reduce the risk of injury to other road users.  A collision with a horse and rider, not only risks serious or fatal injury to the horse and rider, but also to the other road user, their passengers and the vehicle, if the horse comes in to contact with them. 

The impact of collisions

I've represented and advised many horse riders who have been involved in road traffic collisions.  As vulnerable road users this often involves serious life-changing injuries and the loss of their horse.

The psychological impact can also be significant for the horse rider.  There can be psychological injuries associated with the traumatic event itself.  

There are then often issues arising from returning to riding on the road. Increased nervousness can be passed on to the horse, which will make it unsettled and this can add to the challenges the rider faces.  In these circumstances early access to psychological treatment, combined with rider exposure to roads in a controlled manner under instruction can help to rehabilitate the rider to using the roads again.

Appropriate physical rehabilitation is also important.  Once the initial recovery has taken place, it can help to have focused physiotherapy, fitness training to become “riding fit” again.  I've helped clients to access appropriate rehabilitation programmes and secure funds when needed.


It's concerning to see the statistics for collisions and injuries on rural roads despite the changes to the Highway Code which came in to force last year. The figures demonstrate that there are still real risks to all road users travelling on rural roads. More needs to be done to raise awareness of the risks and consequence to using rural roads for all road users. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people affected by road collisions at our dedicated road traffic accidents section.