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Safer Riding - Keeping you and your horse safe on the roads

June 19, 2015 at 11:03 AM

I was pony mad as a child and vividly remember the trials of being a young rider (albeit a fairly experienced one) with a highly-strung competition pony. He was used to hacking in the Welsh hills and if I dared take him on the road he would leap spectacularly into the air, akin to a Lipizzaner. I was about 14 at the time, but looking back now, and with experience as a lawyer, I realise what folly it was to go out on the road on that type of pony, without greater forethought. Particularly as this was before the time of riding hats with secure chin straps and the common use of high-vis gear and head cams. A number of years later I have returned to live in the same village I once rode around care free, and the increase in the volume and speed of traffic is startling.

Unfortunately many drivers don't know how to pass horses safely on the roads, which means riders are putting themselves in danger every time they saddle up and venture out for what is supposed to be an enjoyable part of life. I now spend more time helping injured horse riders than I do riding myself. By offering the following tips on how to stay safe hacking on the roads, I hope to prevent further accidents.

Two horse riders in high viz

Staying safe in traffic

National statistics show that for every 1,000 rides, 37 end in some sort of injury to the rider. There is no denying it can be a dangerous activity, yet few people invest their time in a well thought out training plan that will gradually and safely expose their horse to the issues they face on the road. You can easily recreate some typical hacking scenarios within the safety of your arena to get your horse used to hazards, such as plastic bags or walking through narrow gaps.

Another vital way of reducing the risk of an accident is to think carefully about the weather conditions and traffic volumes. Having to postpone or cancel a ride may be disappointing, but it is preferable to suffering a bad fall.

Be smart and be prepared by taking the following simple steps:

• Avoid busy periods of the day, such as commuting times or school runs. If there are local bus routes, learn what times they are out and about. Similarly, don't step out on the roads on bin day if your horse is frightened by large, noisy vehicles.

• Take a rain check if weather conditions are bad - for example, in high winds, heavy showers, snow, ice, fog or in blinding sun. Consider when the sun may be low and interfere with a driver's vision, too.

• Check your route to avoid road works and known hazards - some useful websites that contain this information are www.trafficengland.com and www.traffic-wales.com.

• Make sure your riding equipment is in good working order. Check the girth is tightened sufficiently, for example.

• Take your mobile phone, switched to silent, and have an In Case of Emergency (ICE) number stored in it.

• Attach a tag to your horse's saddle or bridle with an emergency contact number, in case you get separated for some reason.

• Equip yourself and your horse in high-vis gear. Research has shown a driver travelling at 30mph has three valuable extra seconds of reaction time if a rider is in hi-vis. You can't be held responsible if you don’t wear any, but you might prevent an accident if you do.

• Wear safety equipment, such as a wellfitted riding hat. A body protector is also recommended, particularly if you are riding a young or spooky horse.

Surprisingly, there is no legal requirement to wear a hat. However, if you suffer a head injury which could have been avoided or lessened with the use of appropriate safety equipment, any compensation you might be awarded in a legal case could be reduced to reflect your contributory negligence.

Don't lower your guard

Inside of a horse riding helmet

Accidents often happen when you least expect them. You may have ridden along the same stretch of road hundreds of times, on the same horse, without incident. But then, on one particular day, something goes wrong, and because your reins are long or you're not concentrating you lose control of your horse. Being complacent increases your risk of an accident, so be aware of your surroundings and be in control of your horse at all times.

With a new horse, or a youngster, you should expose them to traffic in a gradual and controlled manner. Don't just head off onto the roads and hope for the best. You can introduce stationary cars in a safe place on the yard, and then ask a friend to drive slowly past, for example. While not everyone has a hacking out partner, the preference is to always ride in company, especially if you have an inexperienced horse. Out on the roads, treat drivers with respect and thank them if they slow down and pass by with care. The aim is for everyone to share the roads safely and responsibly, and this will encourage drivers to slow down and pass wide in the future.

One of the things that can annoy drivers is when riders are two abreast. You have a legal right to do this, as is set out in the Highway Code, and it is a sensible move if you have a young or inexperienced horse. However, where the road is narrow, or you have a car behind you and there is somewhere safe for them to pass, consider going single file. If a driver is faced with horses two-abreast on the road in front of them, it may put them in a position where the only way they can go past you, without hitting another car, is to accelerate past at speed - and they will probably rev their engine at the same time. This will be more spooky for your horse than a car going past slowly.

Safety equipment and the law

In recent years, the use of advanced safety equipment has become commonplace when riding. Lighter and more robust hats provide obvious benefits, but there is other safety equipment on the market:-

Hat and head cams: Use of a hat cam can provide indisputable evidence which may prove useful if you are involved in an accident - either to defend an allegation that you caused it, or to prove someone else did. A solicitor will be able to utilise such evidence in any civil claim and the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) might use it too, but that would be at their discretion in any criminal proceedings. If a vehicle passes by in a dangerous manner, you could use the footage to report it to the police, or employers if it is a corporate vehicle. The CPS may be able to use it to prosecute them, or your hat cam evidence might make them think twice next time they pass a horse and rider.

Warning tabards: Tabards with warnings such as 'Young Horse' may seem like a good idea, but they require a cautionary note. If you go out on to the road on a young horse and feel the need to make this known to drivers, it could be used as evidence against you. If the horse's lack of experience/age causes an accident or significant damage, the fact you are wearing a tabard, warning other road users, may actually work in the driver's favour, due to wording of the Animals Act. However, wearing a tabard is not in itself an admission of liability. If you are wearing a hi-vis bib and a driver comes past you too fast and too close, causing the horse to be spooked and you to fall, they would most likely still be found at fault, irrespective of a tabard saying 'novice horse'.

How can we reduce riding casualties?

Inside of a horse riding helmet

There is always a duty on horse riders to act responsibly when on the road. I have seen cases reported where - despite it being held that a motorist caused an accident - the rider was found equally to blame for riding in an unsafe manner. There have even been cases where a motorist has successfully sued the rider for damage to their car.

Simple steps taken by the rider can minimise risks. Selecting your route, ensuring your horse is prepared, and communicating with other road users, can go a long way in ensuring a safe ride. Likewise there is a duty on motorists to drive safely, to slow down and to give adequate clearance to riders. Even the most minor collision between a vehicle and a horse could have life threatening consequences for rider and animal.

Ultimately, I believe better driver education is the key to improving safety, as road users shouldn't turn into bad drivers simply because they need to overtake a horse and rider. Driving tests should focus more on dealing with horses, while qualified and experienced drivers also need to be reminded of best practice when dealing with horses on the road.

The British Horse Society has various leaflets and posters available about this. Placing them in shops or community noticeboards around the places you ride could help bring this guidance to the forefront. With sensible attitudes and careful behaviour we should be able to share the roads, and in doing so ensure riding remains the safe pleasure it always has been.

About the author

Emma Melia PhotoEmma Melia is a Solicitor and lead litigator within Spencers Solicitors' catastrophic injury team. Emma has over 17 years' experience helping people who have suffered life changing injuries.

The above article also appeared in July's issue of Horse Magazine.

 

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Considering surgery overseas? Know your rights

June 4, 2015 at 2:41 PM

Cosmetic surgery tourism is becoming increasingly common amongst Brits, with figures from Whatclinic.com showing a 109% increase in UK citizens heading overseas for cosmetic surgery in 2014. However it is not difficult to see why, with the price of cosmetic surgery treatments abroad often far lower than in the UK. Rhinoplasty (a nose job) for example, can cost £3,000 in the UK, but just £1,200 in Poland.

Person on sunbed at side of a pool

For many who choose to undergo such procedures abroad, the lure of combining treatment with a holiday in the sun in countries such as Thailand and Turkey is an added bonus. Yet many of those who travel do not appear to understand the significant risks involved with this sort of tourism, and take few steps to ensure that they remain healthy and legally protected.

Those who choose to travel abroad for surgery should ensure that they ask the same questions and take the same level of care over choosing a clinic as they would here in the UK. When considering a specific clinic, the qualifications of the surgeons at the clinic should be investigated, and only clinics and surgeons with suitable liability insurance should be used.

Tips for selecting a clinic abroad

Selecting a clinic inside of the European Union (EU) will usually provide better protection than those outside, mainly down to the EU countries sharing many of the regulations and directives that the UK has, and standards of care and aftercare are higher. However how these are precisely implemented country from to country will still differ greatly. You will also find that many travel insurers will not cover complications arising from cosmetic surgery abroad, so a specialist insurance policy will be needed.

Choosing an English-speaking clinic is also important, in order to fully understand the procedure. You should also ensure that you have spoken to the surgeon who will actually be performing the procedure before the surgery goes ahead, in order to pass your own judgement and ask any questions that you may have.

Saline drips in foreign hospital

Surgical procedures may differ from country to country, and it is down to you to find out and agree the procedure is correct and suitable before you go ahead. You should also obtain information about the types and standards of anaesthetics that are used, the level of aftercare that the clinic offers and the amount of recovery time that is needed before the flight home.

With any type of surgery, there is always a risk of complication - whether in the UK or abroad. If there are complications with UK surgery, liability cover means that you will be fully protected and cared for should something go wrong. This, however, may not be the case should you decide to have surgery abroad, so it is vital to check in advance. As well as ensuring that the clinic and the surgeon are insured, you should check that there is a formal complaints procedure in place, that you know who the liability falls on, and that you know who you should contact to resolve the problems and claim any compensation to which you are entitled.

The most important question...

The main question to ask yourself (and your treatment provider) is what happens if things go wrong? Saving a couple of thousand pounds may turn out to be a high price to pay for poor treatment that affects your long term wellbeing.

There are huge numbers of clinics around the world that provide safe, clean, qualified and fully insured cosmetic procedures to Brits travelling abroad. Doing your research, and choosing a reputable provider are simple steps that could prevent you from being left vulnerable on the operating table.

 

About the author

Jane Gittins PhotoJane Gittins is a Solicitor, Chartered Legal Executive and head of legal operations at Spencers Solicitors. Jane has over fourteen years' experience representing injured claimants and also oversees Spencers' complex injury team.

The above blog also appeared as a featured article in The Looks Trust.

 

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Welcoming London's first Motorcycle Safety Action Plan

May 29, 2015 at 2:13 PM

London is a wonderful city to travel across on two wheels, and it's hoped that bikers will now be able to beat the traffic more safely, thanks to the recent launch by Transport for London (TfL) of its first Motorcycle Safety Action Plan.

Motorcycle safety has always been an issue in the capital, and the action plan has the aim of reducing the numbers of those who are killed or seriously hurt (known as the KSI statistics) by an ambitious 40% by 2020.

This plan has been broadly welcomed, and could even be considered as overdue. Motorcycles in city centres are often a popular choice. They can be relatively inexpensive to buy compared to cars. They allow the rider to get around the city quickly, especially when it comes to getting t work (and contributing to the Capital's economy) without waiting in long queues of traffic. Motorcycles are also attractive as parking in the city centre is also never a real issue.

Motorcycle on London street

Despite their popularity, risks that motorcyclists face every time they ride the city's streets and roads are disproportionately high.

London Motorcycle Accident Statistics

In 2012 629 motorcyclists were killed or seriously injured across London. It's true that this represents just over a fifth (21%) of all those who met the same fate in the Capital that year, yet motorbiking made up just 2.3% of all vehicle kilometres travelled across London in 2012.

In 2014 there were 27 fatalities, and 2015 has already seen nine deaths.

But even if a motorcycle accident doesn't result in a death, the injuries sustained by the motorcyclist are very often extremely serious. The action plan has details of hospital episode statistics that show that almost half of all motorcycle accident admissions have serious injuries to their legs or hips and over a third to their arms or shoulders:

Injury SustainedPercent of Hospital Admissions 
Legs or Hips 46%
Arms or Shoulders 38%
Head or Face 17%
Lower back or Pelvis 15%
Upper back or Thorax  11%
Neck 4%

But the plan also goes beyond looking at injuries from motorcycle accidents, as in 2012 it was calculated that the cost to society of biking accidents London-wide was more than £220m. This calculation includes costs associated with:

• Lost earnings and output

• Medical expenses (ambulances and hospital treatment)

• Impact on the road network with disruption and congestion caused

Motorbike Safety Equipment

Given that there will always be human error and accidents, it's important that the use of protective equipment such as gloves, trousers, jackets, helmets, boots etc. is encouraged. All of these can help prevent both the risk of injury and reduce its impact; so understandably this is a key focus of the plan.

Some interesting research figures are also presented, which highlight the probability of protective clothing preventing injury to various parts of the body in the event of a collision:

Injury to...Probability of Preventing 
Upper Torso 26% - 17%
Upper Extremities  45% - 20%
Lower Torso 39% - 11%
Lower Extremities 45% - 21%

It is clear from this data that the correct safety equipment can have a dramatic impact in avoiding motorcycle fatalities and reducing the chance of serious injury.

Through engagement with the public and working with manufacturers, TfL hope to develop new types of protective clothing and take forward other safety advances such as air-bag jackets and use of light weight materials.

Video of cutting edge safety technology - Multistrada D-Air Ducati's first production motorcycle to have an integrated wireless airbag riding jacket

On technology advances the action plan also worrying shows that over the last 10 years while the number of bikes registered in the city has steadily increased, volumes of new motorbike sales have steadily decreased since 2000. This suggests that more second-hand and inevitably older bikes are on London's roads, not benefiting from safety technology like anti-lock braking systems etc.

A Nationwide Solution

Overall the plan sets out 29 actions focusing on the risks and challenges faced by motorcyclist whilst riding on London roads which will include engineering, education and enforcement, along with a commitment to investment in road safety. There will be extensive working with other agencies including the British Motorcycle Federation and Motorcycle Action Group UK, to ensure it is as successful as other initiatives to boost safety have been in the past.

Nationwide campaigns like the popular Think Bike have been around for years and are vital in raising awareness for drivers to look out for bikers, especially at junctions where they can often cross a motorcyclist's path and be difficult to spot.

However personally I would like to see other major towns and cities in the UK follow London's lead, and introduce a dedicated plan to reduce motorcycle casualties in their areas.

 

Do you ride a motorbike in London? Do you agree motorcycling in the capital is more dangerous than ever? Let me know in the comments.

About the author

Amy Smitheringale PhotoAmy Smitheringale is a Chartered Legal Executive and Solicitor with more than 16 years experience in civil litigation. Amy is the manager of a team of litigators at Spencers Solicitors who deal with a wide variety of personal injury and biking accident claims.

Amy's last blog was Compensation Culture: Don't tar all drivers with the same brush.

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