Man (with motor) v horse v bike

Cyclists are not the only ones to come under attack from we-pay-for-the-roads motorists. Horse riders are also abused by ignorant, impatient drivers. Last week a white van man was jailed for ten months for reversing into a young equestrian riding her horse on a Lancashire country lane. The horse suffered bruising; the female rider hurt her arm and neck while restraining the horse. Now, some might say that it’s odd that a driver gets a jail sentence for bruising a horse when drivers who kill humans on bicycles walk free from court. Nevertheless, all power to the judge, who told the driver:

“You behaved like a bully. You used your vehicle to intimidate and threaten. That’s like using it as a weapon.”

However, the judge’s opinion that motorists fear sentences in dangerous driving trials is wide of the mark:

“People who lose their temper and use their cars to threaten and intimidate, and where they cause fear and harm, must understand the consequences will be severe.”

Tell that to the family of Karl Austin or the families of other cyclists mown down by motorists (sometimes deliberately and not just because of SMIDSY). The consequences of killing a cyclist are rarely severe.

While the majority of motorists slow down when they see a horse (a startled horse can do a lot of damage); some motorists have entitlement issues, believing horses shouldn’t be on the public highway. To such motorists, the only modes of transport that should be allowed on roads are those equipped with motors. Cyclists, horse riders, and pedestrians have no right to be on the road, say they. The belief is that only motorists pay for roads so only motorists are entitled to use roads. This is a commonly held, but mistaken, belief. Motorists don’t pay for roads directly and, even if they did, vehicle excise duty and fuel taxes wouldn’t be enough to pay for all the externalities that mass motoring brings in its wake.

Some motorists believe that ‘road tax’ pays for roads. As cyclists and horses don’t pay ‘road tax’, they have lesser rights to use roads, or no rights at all. This is not an accusation plucked out of thin air. Motoring forums are chock full of Clarkson-clones, happy to advertise their prejudices against “freeloaders”. Similarly, on Twitter, you don’t have to search too hard to find motorists with entitlement issues.

Earlier today @Lozturnerrr wrote: “[horses] shit on roads and it makes a mess of your tyres but don’t pay road tax #holdingagrudge.”

Earlier this month I tweeted back and forth with Twitter user @BennyFreer (he thought I was an equestrian) after he had written: “Horse rider telling us to slow down…Who pays the road tax?”

His friend @JakeBilly chimed in: “Horses should be in fields not on the road! #whodotheythinktheyare.”

@BennyFreer also said: “roads priority is for cars etc take the horse off the road where they belong #factnotfiction,” and “they don’t pay to use it then they shouldn’t have priority” and “people riding two abreast should be shot!”

It’s highly likely that @BennyFreer and his petrolhead mates don’t know how roads are actually funded and certainly aren’t conversant with The Highway Code:

191: Horse riders. Be particularly careful of horses and riders, especially when overtaking. Always pass wide and slow. Horse riders are often children, so take extra care and remember riders may ride in double file when escorting a young or inexperienced horse rider. Look out for horse riders’ signals and heed a request to slow down or stop. Treat all horses as a potential hazard and take great care.

(Rule no 53 contradicts part of the advice above, “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends.”)

It’s interesting to note that many equestrians would like to have what many cycle advocates are clamouring for, infrastructure separated from the source of danger.

The British Horse Society says:

“No proposals are put forward to connect the existing equestrian public rights of way network so that equestrians have a safe off-road network to use. This despite the fact that NHS statistics for 2010-11 show that 3,875 horse riders or occupants of horse drawn vehicles were admitted to hospital in England as a result of being injured on our busy roads. Figures such as these prove the inadequacies of the current fragmented equestrian network and demonstrate the need for a comprehensive connected network. With each accident potentially costing the nation thousands of pounds the cost of getting further equestrian routes put onto the definitive map represents good value and provides a recreational resource for walkers and cyclists as well.”