I thank Ruth Cadbury and my hon. Friend John Lamont for bringing this important issue to the House’s attention. It is right that we adequately address the problem of accidents that lead to death and serious injury on our roads. I am grateful for the attention given to providing the safest possible road network through good legislation, and for the tangible impact it will have in saving lives in my constituency and across the country. That is to be welcomed.
However, I implore the Government to consider the safety of horses and their riders in any measures to improve the law for vulnerable road users. Having listened carefully to concerns raised by constituents in west Cornwall, and having worked closely with the British Horse Society over recent years, I am disappointed that the opportunity created by reviewing and altering both the guidance and the law has not been adequately used to consider the safety of horses and their riders.
Horses and their riders are often forgotten as vulnerable road users compared with cyclists and pedestrians. Given the direct similarities between the way in which drivers should view cyclists and horse riders when passing, it makes sense to link the two in the review of guidance and legislation. My friends in the British Horse Society recently provided me with the current statistics on horses and riders who have been injured or killed as a result of road traffic accidents, and they are truly damning. Some 237 horses have been killed, 40 riders have been killed and 899 horses have been seriously injured. Furthermore, 85% of those incidents have been a result of drivers passing too fast or too close. For a rural constituency such as mine where there are many horse riders, that is a wake-up call, and the Government should recognise it as such.
There have been improvements in the awareness and consideration given to horses and their riders, in large part as a result of education campaigns such as the British Horse Society’s “Dead Slow” campaign and partnerships with the police and driving institutions. However, that is not enough. More needs to be done at Government level to ensure that horses and their riders are a key part of the national debate on road safety. I call on the Government to include in any change to legislation strengthened sections relating to the safety of that important and vulnerable group.
Fresh advice and guidance should explain not only why drivers should take extra care and slow down when passing horses but the consequences of passing too close and too fast. At present, only section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988—“Careless, and inconsiderate, driving”—can be used if horses are passed too fast or too close. I am simply asking for a more conscious and deliberate effort across the nation to educate drivers on the needs and risks of those riding a horse, and for the definition of a road traffic offence to be strengthened. Those measures would save lives of drivers, riders and horses, and spare all those concerned the distress of dealing with such dreadful accidents.
More must be done. I urge the Minister to work with the Roads Minister to take seriously recent requests that the Government consider and then implement speed limits and minimum distances when drivers are passing horses. That is not a perfect answer, but it would be a significant step and a statement of intent that horses and their riders are recognised as a vulnerable group and will no longer be overlooked in this debate.
I urge the Minister not to overlook the matter of equestrian safety when exploring new road traffic offences and subsequent sentencing. The similarities to cyclists are stark. It therefore makes no sense to turn a blind eye to the matter of horse safety, given the opportunity to improve road safety for vulnerable road users.