Lester Dagge, a keen horse rider and carriage driver explores the issue of road safety and carried out his own survey to discover the experiences of fellow drivers and how to correctly address the problem.

For a long time, road safety has been my worry. Even where I live in deepest sleepy rural Wales, we are seeing a dramatic increase in traffic along once tranquil roads, and are now having to choose our times carefully to drive or ride. So, what is going on with the highways? I decided it was time to investigate.

Despite the modern motorists belief that horses and carriages have no place in the road, our forefathers’ rights to travel on the highway still remains legally relevant today. Even though our equestrian disciplines may have changed little over time, the highways in which we travel have. We are in a modern age of rapidly advancing technology and dramatic social change where our roads have becoming increasingly precarious and perilous.

I recently conducted an online survey aimed at carriage drivers ‘Drive Safe’, and I discovered that 75% of those who responded now feel at greater risk carriage driving on our roads with speeding motorists taking advantage of quieter roads, and 15% reporting a near miss whilst carriage driving since the March 2020 national lockdown.

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in those wishing to re-locate from urban to rural areas and there has also been a significant rise in home deliveries in rural areas.

Through my survey, I found that nearly 60% of carriage drivers maintained their exercise routine during the last 12 months. With increasing traffic threats, the demand for road space is clearly becoming compromised whilst carriage drivers and horse riders are being threatened off the highway, either confined to arenas or simply giving up the pursuit altogether.

The Drive Safe survey I carried out reveals that the vast majority of carriage drivers who responded (88%) still try to continue carriage driving on the road and sustain its reputation as a socially enjoyable pursuit. We learn that 71% drive in company with 64% driving on a Sunday morning mainly before 12noon (52%). Single pony turnouts offered the popular choice at 43%, with the single horse at 30% and 51% had been driving for more than 10 years with 55% primarily involved in pleasure driving.

Horse riders and carriage drivers are becoming frustrated with the lack of awareness shown by other road users and are looking to the various authorities and equine membership organisations to seek help with their plight.

The increase in diverse traffic on our roads has raised a number of serious road safety concerns and the Department of Transport is currently updating their Highway Code to address these changes. The Highway Code now includes a reference to horse riders and carriage drivers, to advise learner drivers and update existing drivers on their responsibilities. Speed awareness courses now include dealing with passing wide and slow, whilst regional local authorities and police forces are working on new road safety campaigns.

Although some government researchers claim that motorists become ‘sign blind’ to regular exposure of the same sign and quickly ignore the efficacy of the sign. When the time comes to ride or drive on the road, it is recommended to make ourselves as visible as possible. Whilst the vast majority who responded to the survey wear hi-viz, my Drive Safe survey revealed that only 86% wore hard hats and only 20% used LED lights or a compact sports camera. It is recommended to make your turnout as visible as possible and use LED clip on cycle lights to illuminate the extremity of your turnout. The wearing of hi-viz provides a good three seconds of reaction time for motorists to brake, as well as being visible by any potential low flying aircraft who are trained to take necessary evasive action.

Video recordings from compact sports cameras can be used as legal evidence in the event of a traffic incident. Various regional police forces offer a service to upload information to a website and may help secure a prosecution for dangerous driving. This is a useful resource and we should make more use of it, but avoid sharing evidence on social media or expect any feedback from your submission, when it enters the legal system it may therefore be treated as confidential legal evidence.

Dealing with the increasing threat of intimidating speeding road users has been a prime worry for many. Lockdown has seen a significant rise in cycling proving an increasing challenge for horse riders and carriage drivers. Recent reports show that many of these cyclists are from outside our regions and unaware of the countryside code. They are very often heavily focused on their time trials and oblivious to their surroundings, even overtaking horse riders and carriage drivers on the inside.

A new BHS and national cycling groups joint initiative aims to raise awareness with their ’Be nice say Hi’ campaign.

The cycling lobby has a keen supporter in the Sustrans Active Travel group who are opening up old tracks, disused railways and green lanes for cyclists. They are rapidly gaining momentum around the country, but sadly seem to be resistant to carriage drivers. The debacle of allowing carriages onto bridleways or green lanes causes major problems. Sadly by association, carriages are prohibited from using bridleways, and as wheeled vehicles, any off road access opens the floodgates for illicit motorbike trail riding and four wheel drive enthusiasts with their pursuit of ‘green laning’ where they often create irreparable damage to the routes.

The issue of access to rights of ways and old tracks is often a contentious issue, and with 2026 seeing a cut off point for our local councils’ review of rights of way, we are encouraged to lobby local authorities to ensure old routes are opened up or maintained.

For carriage drivers, the British Driving Society remains the country’s leading membership organisation for pleasure driving and they are keen to promote best practice carriage driving. The BDS has a well-established training syllabus and awards scheme that helps drivers prepare for safe driving on the road, the BHS too has a safety training and awards scheme for horse riders.

Whilst the future of driving on the road seems precarious, there are a few tips that will help you prepare when you next either ride or drive: make yourself as visible as possible, wear a hard hat, wear hi-viz, use LED cycle lights consider using a compact sports video camera report any incident, near miss, collision, dogs, fireworks, or injury and download the BHS app Horse-i …and above all else, enjoy your drive - safely! www.bhs.org.uk

Report your horse riding incidents and accidents

Order a Carriage Driving branded hi viz vest

This article first appeared in the August/September 2021 issue. Subscribe here to keep up to date with the world of Carriage Driving