Can a horse rider be liable for a road traffic accident caused by their horse?

What is the law that relates to the liability of horse riders in relation to road traffic accidents?

There is no specific legislation which relates to the liability of horse riders in relation to road traffic accidents. The law of negligence will, therefore, apply to the horse rider in such circumstances.

What amounts to negligence?

In order to establish negligence the following elements must be present:

  • duty of care;
  • breach of that duty;
  • causation;
  • loss.

Duty of care

It is established law that horse riders owe a duty of care to other road users. This duty extends to other riders, pedestrians, cyclists and vehicle drivers. With this in mind it is often recommended that riders take the British Horse Society’s road proficiency test before riding on the road.

Breach of the duty of care

As it is established law that horse riders owe a duty of care to other road users it is necessary to consider whether that duty was breached in a particular case. When deciding whether a person breached the duty of care the Courts apply both a subjective and an objective test. In doing so the Court will consider whether the horse rider knew that there was a risk of the accident occurring and whether a reasonable horse rider in the same situation would have realised that there was a risk of the accident occurring.

The Court will consider, where appropriate, whether the horse rider was breaking the law when the accident took place. For example, it is a criminal offence to wilfully ride on a footpath or causeway by the side of the road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers. This will, therefore, be relevant if the accident took place on a pavement for example. Failure to comply with the law will ordinarily be enough in order to establish breach of the duty of care.

The Court will also take into account the provisions of the Highway Code. Whilst the majority of the provisions contained in the Highway Code are not legal requirements the Court will take them into account when deciding whether a horse rider breached the duty of care. Specifically the Court will, where appropriate, consider the following matters:

    What time of day the accident took place. The Highway Code advises riders that it is safer not to ride on the road at night or in poor visibility. Whether for the time of day or weather conditions the horse rider and the horse was wearing suitable clothing. The Highway Code advises horse riders to wear light-coloured or fluorescent clothing in daylight and reflective clothing when riding at night or in poor visibility. The Highway Code also advises that horses wear reflective bands above the fetlock joints when being ridden at night or in poor visibility and that a light which shows white to the front and red to the rear be fitted, with a band to the rider’s right arm and/ or their leg or riding boot.

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For more information on:

  • Causation
  • Loss