Drivers encouraged to humanise horse riders and cyclists to improve road safety

Helping drivers to connect with horse riders and cyclists through personal stories could lead to safer behaviours on the road, according to research by NEWC member Nottingham Trent University (NTU), which has informed a new safety campaign from The British Horse Society (BHS).

More than 340 drivers took part in a study which saw them complete a survey on their attitudes towards horse riders and cyclists and their passing behaviour – such as views on safe distance and speed. They then watched a video of the personal story of either a horse rider or a cyclist, or a control video featuring neither, before answering the questions again.

The videos were created by the BHS and Cycling UK and told an emotive story about a main protagonist. In three cases the story focused on their stressful job roles in organisations that are widely supported by public opinion, for example fire service or NHS, and how horse riding or cycling allowed them to de-stress. A fourth video focused on a father who was concerned about the safety of his children while cycling.

Those who saw the videos reported improved attitudes which were significantly greater than any changes that occurred in those who did not. This group also indicated a larger distance required to be safe when overtaking a horse or cyclist after watching the video and reported that they would overtake a horse or cyclist at a lower speed. The researchers also noted that the horse rider videos did not improve attitudes towards cyclists, nor vice versa, which suggests any changes were not due to a general improvement in attitude towards all vulnerable road users.

David Crundall, lead researcher and Professor of Psychology at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “This one-shot intervention study has demonstrated that these videos can change explicit attitudes and intended passing behaviours in a group of drivers, at least in the short term. Compared to the control group, we can see that drivers who have greater awareness of a rider’s personal story have significantly improved how they would pass riders on the road, giving a greater passing distance and slowing down their speed.”

Image (left) shows Professor David Crundall

The research has informed the new BHS ‘Look Out for Laura’ campaign, funded by the Road Safety Trust, which is urging drivers to humanise horse riders after statistics showed that road incidents involving horses and vehicles continue to rise, with 2,943 incidents reported to the equine charity in 2021. Compared to 2020, this is an increase of over 2,000 cases. Of the 2,943 reported, 85% of them occurred due to vehicles passing by too closely.

And with more than 500 horses reported to be killed on the roads since 2010, the charity is urging more drivers to think about how they look at horse riders when they’re out on the road and encourage them to adhere to its Dead Slow campaign messages. Dead slow was launched to help better educate drivers on how to safely pass horses on the road. In line with the new Highway Code changes, the campaign consists of four key behavioural change messages to drivers:

If I see a horse on the road then I will …

  • Slow down to a maximum of 10mph
  • Be patient – I won’t sound my horn or rev my engine
  • Pass the horse wide and slow, (if safe to do so) at least a car’s width if possible
  • Drive slowly away

Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety at The British Horse Society, said: “The number of incidents involving horses on Britain’s roads remains far too high. It is, therefore, vital that we continue to urge drivers to be more considerate when passing horses and aware of how to do this safely.

“Riding helps people from all backgrounds and walks of life, particularly when it comes to relieving stressful and difficult situations. We need to push awareness of this, and believe the ‘Look Out for Laura’ campaign offers a powerful message that will encourage drivers to think about the riders around them and help to reduce the significant number of horses being killed on Britain’s roads.”

Click here to download a pdf copy of Professor Crundall's study report.

As part of the campaign, the BHS has released two new videos to educate and encourage riders to safely pass horses on the road. Watch the Look Out for Laura and Julie’s Story videos, and read the full report online.

The BHS encourages all riders to report their incidents to the charity at or through its app Horse i. The more incidents that are reported, the more the BHS can do to protect the rights of horse riders on Britain’s roads

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