THIS week, November 12-19, is the UK Annual Road Safety Week, so it seems appropriate to highlight an equine road safety event that took place recently. The first ever major Horse and Road Safety Event in Northern Ireland was held on the North Coast in September 2021, during ‘Vulnerable Road-User Month’.
Local horse riders, Karola Dillenburger and Wendy Saunderson promoted and produced the 2021 Horse and Road Safety ‘PWAS’ (‘Pass Wide and Slow’) event in Portrush, which was a resounding success. PWAS is a UK-wide online equine road safety campaign group of over 24,000 horse riders, who established an annual national ‘ride out’ event across England, Wales, Scotland and now Northern Ireland, to raise awareness and to lobby for improved road safety for horse riders and their horses, as vulnerable road-users.
Much emphasis, effort and resources are focused on keeping all road-users safe on public highways and byways. Statutory, voluntary, private/ commercial, charitable and community bodies contribute to road safety via a detailed UK Highway Code, compulsory vehicle Driving Test, education and training, and lobbying the government for stricter policy and legislation, and stiffer penalties for breaching them. While strong emphasis is placed on road and vehicle safety for commercial lorries and vans, private and company cars, motorbikes – and even cyclists – there is relatively very little information and training about horses: about how to correctly meet and safely pass one or more horse riders on ‘shared’ public roads.
To those that think horses are a tiny minority of road-users and therefore the least in need of attention or protection, there are currently around 35,000 horses in NI, the vast majority of which are privately owned for recreational use. Further, the horse industry is worth £121 million to the NI economy every year*.
Given the paucity of dedicated bridleways in NI, many horse riders must use the roads, whether to get from one off-road location to another, or to hack out on minor country roads. Sadly, over the past year in the UK, over 1,000 reported incidents led to serious injury and/ or the death of rider and/ or horse: around 140 riders were injured, 1 died, and 80 horses were killed**. Unlike cars, horses don’t ‘dent’ – they die.
The PWAS campaign aims to raise awareness and improve safety for riders and their horses as recognised ‘vulnerable’ road-users.
*Report commissioned by DAERA, published 2019.
**BHS Annual Statistics, published 2020.
The North Coast event was one of 180 simultaneous ‘ride out’ events that took place all across the UK on September 19 and was the first major PWAS event to be held in Northern Ireland. Following widespread advertising and publicity, and fantastic sponsorship and support from the local business community, the PSNI, media outlets and equestrian volunteers, the event was a resounding success!
Between 30 and 40 horses, riders – and one mini-carriage drawn by two Shetland ponies – having assembled at Maddybenny Riding Centre, embarked on the eight-mile circular ‘awareness-raising’ route from Portrush. ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ banners lined the route and all horses and riders sported hi-viz attire; there was a full police escort all the way.
Halfway along the route, the ‘Inn on the Coast’ (sponsor of the rosettes) hosted a public reception and information session, with a one-hour ‘pitstop’ for the horse riders, key short speeches on horses and road safety training from equine professionals, and on legal and UK Highway Code requirements from the PSNI’s Road Safety Education Officer.
A public raffle, drawn by the Deputy Mayor, also raised over £200 (for Coleraine ‘Riding for the Disabled’ and the ‘Equine Halfway House’ horse rescue centre).
The excellent support and interest in the event means that the organisers, Karola Dillenburger and Wendy Saunderson, have decided to repeat the event next year (keeping abreast of any relevant forthcoming amendments to the UK Highway Code). The date for next year’s North Coast PWAS Ride out Event is September 18, 2022 (please see Portrush PWAS Event page: https:// fb.me/e/ 4e1R5nKLE).
Parallel to the PWAS event, the PSNI have produced two Public Information Road Safety Videos, featuring one of the event organisers, Wendy Saunderson. The two videos were officially press-released by the PSNI on the day of the PWAS event, and represent the first time that the police here have focused on horse and rider road safety.
The two videos are mounted on the official PSNI website, and have had c. 5,000 views to date, a worthwhile achievement in terms of awareness-raising to any/ all vehicle drivers and other road-users.
PSNI Official Horse & Road Safety Video 1: https:// fb.watch/ 9bcwQiGWnH/
PSNI Official Horse & Road Safety Video 2: https:// fb.watch/ 9bcnnweEV2/
The organisers of the ‘Pass Wide and Slow’ 2021 event, Karola Dillenburger and Wendy Saunderson, plan to establish the North Coast Sept Ride out as an annual event in the UK PWAS calendar. A number of horse riders have already registered for next year’s event, scheduled for September 18, 2022 and all enquiries are welcome.
Meanwhile, developments of the various contributors to road safety will be monitored, particularly the current amendments to the UK Highway Code, and not least to the proposed ‘hierarchy’ of vulnerable road users, and how this might affect the 12 sections of the Code currently relevant to horses and their riders.
Also followed closely will be any progress of the Department for Infrastructure (DFI)’s follow up to its Northern Ireland Road Safety Strategy (NIRSS) 10-year Road Safety Strategy to 2020: perhaps the four principle targets and the 20 key performance indicators (KPIs) can be developed to actually incorporate mention of horses and their riders.
The BHS (British Horse Society) is actively encouraging horse riders to download their new free App ‘Horse i’ and use it to report all road incidents deemed unsafe, towards increasing accountability of careless drivers and protection of horse riders. It will take some time, however, before a significant database can be produced.
An interesting summary can be made of the extent of horse and rider information and education provided by, for example, Driving Instructors, and Road Safety Driver Education, via the Road Safety Partnership courses.
Future plans would include the highlighting of the work and support of organisations like RoadSafeNI and potential benefits of working alongside them towards awareness-raising about the importance of ALL road-users being able to safely SHARE public roads.