I was recently posed the following scenario and question by a Cycling UK member:
Q: A cyclist is cycling along a country lane. They approach a horse-rider from behind going in the same direction. The cyclist gives no audible warning of their approach. The horse shies and the rider falls and injures themselves. What is the legal responsibility, if any, of the cyclist?
A: According to the police, there were 133 recorded horse rider casualties in 2011, including four fatalities. Naturally, there are likely to be many other incidents that go unrecorded. The British Horse Society estimates that there are approximately 3,000 incidents every year.
The Highway Code, rules 49 to 58 provides advice regarding horse-riding on the road: “All road users owe a duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing damage to others using or present on the highway.”
Road users should understand the particular vulnerability of riders and horses and behave courteously towards them at all times. Horses are easily spooked, potentially putting both riders and other road users at risk of injury. Importantly, horses are easily frightened by bicycles. A frightened horse can be a serious hazard on the highway.
I would suggest a greeting of some sort might be appropriate before cyclists attempt to overtake horse-riders, particularly if the road is narrow. I would also add that cyclists should listen out for any instructions from the rider before proceeding.
When overtaking, cyclists should give horses plenty of room and proceed slowly. It is better to wait for oncoming traffic to pass than to be forced too close to a horse.
Cyclists shouldn't do anything that is likely to startle the horse such as shouting loudly or using a bell or horn. In rural areas, there is a risk of colliding with horses particularly on winding country roads when negotiating blind corners.
If a horse is spooked by the actions of a cyclist causing injury or damage, or a cyclist collides with a horse, then there is the potential that the cyclist could be subject to a civil claim for any injury or loss caused.
It is important that all cyclists have third party liability insurance and I’d like to add that CTC membership provides the valuable benefit of £10m of third party indemnity cover.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for CTC Members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002.
For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist Cycling Accident Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8105 or contact us online and we will call you.
Richard Gaffney is Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyer for Cycling UK, the UK’s national cycling charity.