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Go left! Highways England’s message to horse owners if they break down

23 Mar 2021

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If you break down – go left! That’s the message from Highways England which has launched its biggest ever campaign to help drivers feel safer as the nation travels the Government’s roadmap out of the lockdown.

With self-contained holidays returning next month as travel restrictions start to ease, Highways England is giving clear advice about what to do to do in an emergency, especially if you are towing a horse box.

In 2020 alone, horseboxes were recorded as being involved in 631 breakdowns on motorways operated by Highways England.

Knowing what to do in an emergency or break down will help keep you, others, and your vehicle safe, giving you confidence when you travel.

The key message of the multi-million pound campaign is that if you get into trouble on the motorway, go left.

If you are unable to exit the motorway at the next junction or service station, try to go left into an emergency area or hard shoulder. Get safe and then get help. .

And while the experience of breaking down can be frightening for any road user, having a trailer attached to your vehicle can make the experience even more daunting.

Emergency Area 

Stuart Lovatt, Head of Strategic Road Safety for Highways England, said: “Safety is our top priority and we know that no one plans to break down but the unexpected does happen.

“We also know how important animals of all shapes and sizes are to their owners which is why it is some important to know what to do in an emergency.

“By following simple safety advice, go left, we want all those traveling on the motorway to feel more in control and confident.”

Des Payne, Safety Team Leader at The British Horse Society said: “In the event of a breakdown on the motorway or major A-road, never enter the horse compartment and don’t unload your horse unless the police or agencies have granted permission.

“The safety of you, your horse and those in vehicles around you is paramount and therefore we strongly advise that all possible steps are taken to minimise the risk of a breakdown or incident occurring.

“It’s vitally important that thorough vehicle checks are carried out before every journey, regardless of how frequently you use your mode of equine transport.

“It’s also important that trailers are professionally serviced at least once a year, as like servicing a horse box, ensuring all areas of the vehicle have been rigorously examined. Before towing, it’s crucial that all trailer components are fit for purpose.

“There are multiple checks that should be carried out on your mode transport and a detailed list of these can be found at bhs.org.uk/transporting-horses.

“The BHS also recommends that you take out quality breakdown cover specifically for equine recovery, otherwise a rescue, particularly from a motorway, has the potential to be very expensive.”

Millions of journeys are made every day on the country’s busiest roads – motorways and major A-roads – and most are incident-free. But around 600 involve a break down.

The advice to drivers who experience a problem with their vehicle is to leave the motorway if possible. But if that is not possible, Highways England recommends the following:

Go left

  • put your left indicator on and move into an emergency area, onto a hard shoulder, motorway service area, left-hand verge or A-road lay-by. 
  • Switch your hazard warning lights on, even during the day. If it’s dark, use side lights and in poor visibility use fog lights as well  
  • On a motorway without a hard shoulder, it should be possible for most vehicles experiencing a problem to reach an emergency area. These are spaced regularly, and are marked by a clearly visible orange road surface and blue signs featuring an orange SOS telephone symbol. 

Get safe 

  • If it is safe to do so, and you can get out with any passengers, exit your vehicle on the side furthest from traffic. If it is not safe to do so, stay in your vehicle and wait for help.
  • Keep well away from moving traffic and your own vehicle. Get behind a safety barrier where there is one, and where it is safe to do so. If you’re on a verge, be aware of any unseen hazards such as uneven ground or debris. 
  • Never wait in your caravan, motorhome or trailer

Get help

  • contact Highways England on 0300 123 5000 and then a breakdown recovery provider. 

If you are unable to exit your vehicle and get to a safe place, have stopped in a live traffic lane or feel your life is in danger, stay in your vehicle with your seatbelts and hazard lights on and call 999 immediately.

To ensure caravanners know the importance of pre-journey checks, Highways England is also part of an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to raise awareness of trailer and towing safety in the UK.

Chaired by Karin Smyth MP, the primary focus of the APPG is to bring together parliamentarians, industry representatives and consumer groups to discuss and raise awareness of trailer and towing safety.

Road safety data related to personal injury accidents on public roads that are reported to the police and recorded using STATS19 show that in 2019, there were eight fatalities, 57 serious injuries and 219 slight injuries resulting from incidents involving towing in Great Britain.

Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South and Chair of the APPG on Trailer and Towing Safety, said: “This is a timely and important campaign from Highways England.

“It’s important that we use every chance we have to get the message out to people towing about what they should do in an emergency.

“We must continue to push progress to improve UK road safety and make it a world-leader. This can only be achieved with unrelenting focus and successful public engagement.

“I Chair the APPG on Trailer and Towing Safety, where we have worked hard to bring together a coalition of people committed to change, from those who have faced loss through trailer incidents, to consumers and industry experts.

“Our goal is to ensure that we secure greater clarity on people’s rights and responsibilities when towing on our roads. It’s important that, as we go forward, we continue to bring all people along with us on this journey for safer highways.”

Before setting off, Highways England wants anyone towing to ensure they have the correct licence and insurance to tow whatever the weight, that the vehicle is connected correctly and that the payload is distributed safely, is secure and within the limits for the vehicle.

Some of the main factors that Highways England has seen resulting in incidents arise from preventable mistakes, including the below:

  • Poorly loaded (weight in the wrong place – e.g. towards the rear, rather than concentrated in the middle)
  • Overloaded trailer (too much weight, although often that will also result in poor loading)
  • Insufficient noseweight - can cause the trailer to sway if the stability is upset by an external factor and may get out of control if not addressed  
  • Trailer too heavy for the towcar’s capability to control it
  • Speed too high / driving too fast for the road conditions
  • Driver not reacting correctly to crosswinds/passing lorries causing instability to the vehicle
  • Breakaway cable not attached correctly

Towing mirrors are also a legal requirement when towing the vast majority of caravans and should be fitted to both driver and passenger sides to provide adequate rear visibility. For advice about what to do in a breakdown, visit here

For more information on transporting your horse, including pre-travel checks and breakdown advice, follow the link below:

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