Ellen Shipton


DATE PUBLISHED: 01 Dec 2020 LAST UPDATED: 23 May 2022

Highway Code changes for equestrians: cyclists and horse riders

The Highway Code is currently under review with a view to implementing some proposed amendments. The purpose of the amendments is to improve the safety of vulnerable road users and create a hierarchy of road users. The changes will also aim to establish priority between different road users (namely pedestrians and cyclists) and establish safer overtaking.

According to the government website, the main proposed amendments to the Code are as follows:

introducing a hierarchy of road users which ensures that those road users who can do the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they may pose to others

clarifying existing rules on pedestrian priority on pavements, to advise that drivers and riders should give way to pedestrians crossing or waiting to cross the road,

providing guidance on cyclist priority at junctions to advise drivers to give priority to cyclists at junctions when travelling straight ahead

establishing guidance on safe passing distances and speeds when overtaking cyclists and horse riders”.

Horse related updates

The main proposed updates relating to horse riders are as follows:

– In any situation, the road user who can cause the greatest harm, has the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others.

– When overtaking a horse rider (or horse drawn vehicle) you must given at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car. As a driver, you must also take extra care and give more space when overtaking horse riders or horse drawn vehicles in bad weather (including high winds) and at night.

– Guidance when overtaking horse riders and horse drawn vehicles includes:

  • Leave a minimum distance of 2 metres;
  • Pass at speeds under 15mph; and
  • You should wait behind the horse rider or horse drawn vehicle if it is not safe to overtake and not possible to meet the above guidance. Do not push through or past a horse- horses are sentient beings who can be unpredictable.

Equestrian concerns

As a result of the proposed amendments to the Highway Code, many equestrians have voiced concerns that horse riders would be unfairly prejudiced by the proposed hierarchy of road users with many concerned at whether cyclists would feature higher in the hierarchy therefore leading to cyclists becoming less respectful of horse riders. The BHS have since confirmed that there is no intended priority for cyclists over horse riders and this view is echoed by Cycling UK. Both th3e BHS and Cycling UK are part of the stakeholders focus group.

More specifically, a number of equestrians have been concerned that the proposed amendments suggest that cyclists may undertake horse riders if moving at a slower speed. Specifically, one proposed amendment to the Highway Code suggests that cyclists may pass slower-moving traffic on their right or left. The BHS have confirmed that it has not been suggested that horses are “slower-moving traffic” however the BHS has asked for specific wording to be inserted within the Highway Code: “Cyclists should NEVER pass horses on the nearside or to their left”. This is a view supported by British Cycling, British Triathlon and Cycling UK.

Dead? Or Dead Slow?

Some of the Highway Code’s proposed amendments, notably the requirements for overtaking horse riders, are echoed within the BHS’ own campaigns such as “Dead? Or Dead Slow”. The campaign itself has been around for a number of years now and aims to move away from a focus on animal and human welfare towards a focus on your own life and your own vehicle. The hope is that this would encourage more people to be careful from a selfish point of view- half a tonne of animal is not going to let you, or your car, off lightly, let alone the damage it could do to the horse itself or the rider.

The simple steps recommended are:

1. As you approach the horse rider, slow down, be patient;

2. Don’t sound your horn or rev your engine;

3. Go past at 15mph;

4. When you’re clear of the horse, move away slowly.

Need advice on equine law or the legislation surrounding COVID-19 and horses?

If you have any equine related issues, whether road related or not, please get in touch with our specialist Equine Law department by contacting us at equine@ellisjones.co.uk or by calling 01202 057732.

Our Equine Law team specialise in a number of varying equine disputes including:

Buying and selling horses- contracts and misrepresentations;

Loan, livery, grazing agreements;

Professional negligence (vets, farriers, saddlers etc);

Concerns surrounding the Animals Act 1971; and

Concerns surrounding animal welfare (Animal Welfare Act 2006).

How can we help?

When you submit this form an email will be sent to the relevant department who will contact you within 48 hours. If you require urgent advice please call 01202 525333.

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