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Horse & Law - Issue 17

02 February 2017

Riding a horse on the road is a common practice in New Zealand. However, it is more frequently becoming a dangerous way to exercise a horse. Regularly accidents happen which result in injury and death to horses and riders alike. Increased traffic and speed, coupled with driver ignorance of horse behaviour has proven to be a deadly combination in the last few years.

Like cyclists, riders have a constant battle with educating road users on appropriate driving behaviour when horses are sharing the road. The NZ Transport Agency (Agency) identifies horse riders as “other road users”. Their website requests that as a road user, when sharing the road with a horse rider, should show courtesy. They note further that “horses can take fright easily, so adjust your driving as soon as you see horses on the road ahead of you”. The Agency also sets out the procedure for safe driving near horses:

  • Slow down and pass carefully, giving the horse and rider plenty of room.
  • Don't sound your horn, rev your engine or pass at speed, as this could frighten the horse.
  • If the horse and rider are on a bridge or narrow road, be very careful – slow down or stop.
  • If the horse appears frightened, stop.
  • At night, dip your headlights when approaching a horse.
  • Two vehicles should avoid passing near a horse.

 

As the Agency rightly suggests, as a horse rider, it's important that you follow the road rules. The rules will help ensure a riders safety when riding on the road. The Agency sets out the safety rules for horse riders:

  • Always wear a safety hat while riding. Otherwise, a fall from your horse could result in a head injury.
  • Ride your horse on the left-hand side of the road and as far to the left as possible.
  • Keep your horse on the side of the road whenever you can, but don't ride on footpaths, lawns or gardens.
  • Don't ride more than two abreast.
  • Don't ride on the right of any moving vehicle.
  • If you're leading another animal while riding, always keep it on your left, away from the traffic.
  • If you're riding a horse or leading animals at night, wear reflective clothing and carry a torch.
  • Horse-drawn vehicles - At night, vehicles drawn by horses must have a white light on the front right of the vehicle or load and have a red light shining to the rear. They must not have a red light on the front at night.

 

The Agency’s guidance and rules outlined above are practical and if followed accidents will be reduced. But, there is always the risk with horses on a road as horses are not machines and at times are their natures unpredictable. For the most part riders ensure they are riding on the road verges not on the road itself, are wearing appropriate safety gear and will avoid if at all possible riding a traffic shy horse on a road.

As a result, the question received from most road riders is 'what is our legal status when riding on the roads and what can we do if a driver does not comply with the rules?'.

Firstly, just like all other road users, horse riders are legally entitled to ride on the road. Secondly, if road users do not follow the Agency guidelines they could be charged with careless or dangerous driving or worse. Thirdly, if you are riding on the road and a road user does not comply with Agency guidelines, then the best approach would be:

  • If it was a near miss and an accident did not occur, but could have due to their driving behaviour, obtain their licence plate number and make a complaint to the police.
  • If an accident is caused by the driver report it immediately to the police.
  • If the accident caused damage or loss to your property and the police are unable to enforce restitution for the value, it may be possible to make a claim in a civil court against the driver depending on the value of the loss.

 

Alice Nunn is a Senior Solicitor in the Equine Team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Alice at alice.nunn@nwm.co.nz.

Alice Nunn