There are many vulnerable users on our roads – and one group in particular can be at a higher level of risk. Horse riders are often forced to use public roads in order to reach bridleways, which are tracks designated for use by walkers, cyclists and horses.
Obviously, modern roads are not an ideal place for a horse and they will usually require significant training in order to become ‘traffic-proof’. But a horse is still a live animal with a mind of its own and will often respond with a ‘flight’ instinct if startled.
Bridleways are generally thought to be much safer places for horse riders. So what happens when a horse is spooked on a bridleway, by a user that is not legally permitted to be there in the first place?
This was exactly the situation which Sarah Roberts found herself on 10th November 2013, when she was riding along a bridleway on her horse Sky, who became spooked when confronted with a motorbike.
The motorbike attempted to pass alongside Sky, causing him to panic and bolt. As a result of this, Ms Roberts was thrown from her horse and sustained a broken ankle.
Usually it is extremely difficult for riders to bring claims against other road users, as liability is often denied. However her claim was successfully pursued through the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) – the organisation responsible for compensating the victims of accident caused by untraced or uninsured drivers.
At first, the claim was dismissed by the MIB who claimed that as the motorbike was being ridden on a bridleway, it was not likely to be a road bike that would need insurance. However it was argued that a bridleway is a public place or road, under the current Highways Act and Road Traffic Act and witnesses also confirmed that they had seen L-plates on the motorbike, proving that it was a road bike.
Critically, the solicitors were also able to refer to an EU Court ruling Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav — which made reference to what constitutes a vehicle and the circumstances for which it should be insured.
According to the British Horse Society, in England, the public rights of way network amounts to 188,700km. This is made up of 146,600km of footpaths, 32,400km of bridleways, 3,700km of byways and 6,000km of restricted byways. Therefore, currently, horse riders, only have access to around about 22 percent of public rights of way.
As a vulnerable road user, like cyclists and pedestrians, drivers of motorised vehicles should show due diligence when approaching and passing horse riders on the roads and certainly should not venture onto tracks permitted for their exclusive use.
Sarah Hampson, who works in the marketing team at Freeclaim Solicitors commented, “As a keen rider myself, who rides daily on public roads, I have seen first-hand what a perilous place they can be. The percentage of bridle paths compared to the number of riders in the UK is sadly very inadequate and because the bridleway network is so disjointed, riders must risk the road in order to exercise their horse.”
“For a rider to sustain an injury caused by a motorised vehicle illegally using a public right of way designed for horses must be very distressing. I am really pleased to hear of the outcome of this case, which delivers a very just conclusion for Ms Roberts.”
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