I calmly explained I had every right to be on a byway but he just started shouting at me – which then spooked his horse and it tore away down the lane. He stayed on but it must have taken him 100 yards to get the horse back under control.
The other rider followed his mate and when he was away from the bike I started up and carried on. I thought no more about it until later that day I had a visit from the local Police Community Support Officer, because the rider had lodged a complaint against me.
I was riding alone, so there’s nobody to back up my version of events. I was not threatened with any kind of prosecution and I know I did everything right, but I want to be prepared if things get more serious.
The Police are often remarkably unsure about byways. These are routes that historically had public rights of way for all classes of vehicle but, as roads became tarmacked, fell into leisure use. However, the traditional rights to use these roads have not been extinguished. Provided there is not a Traffic Regulation Order on it – and there was not on the byway you were riding – you are entitled to ride a motorcycle there. Your machine must be street legal, MOT’d and taxed. It must be displaying a number plate and have street-legal tyres.
The definitive map of rights of way is held by the Local Authority, which also has a duty to ensure that somebody not familiar with the area can follow byways routes with reasonable ease. The working legal definition of a byway is “a highway over which the public have right of way for all purposes but which is used mainly as a footpath and bridleway”. If you have a PCSO attending, you can refer them to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 66.
Your presence on the byway was entirely lawful so if the police want to press matters, they will have to prove on the criminal burden of proof that you committed a traffic offence. They must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you rode in a way that was inconsiderate and careless. Bearing in mind that you followed the best-practice guidance of the Trial Riders Fellowship – which was to kill your engine and stop – it seems to me that no magistrates court could find that you had committed any offence at all.
If you had shown a calculated course of reckless behaviour – for example, passing close to the horse, then kicking up a massive rooster tall – it could potentially amount to dangerous driving, for which you would receive a one-year mandatory ban and a compulsory retest on all your classes of licence, exactly as if you had been convicted of dangerous driving on a regular, tarmacked road. If you misjudged the distance between the horses, or perhaps misjudged your speed, and the horse spooked then that would be careless driving. If you started revving your bike when 60-70ft from the horse, it would probably be careless and inconsiderate riding. However, you did none of these things: you followed exact best practice and it is extraordinarily unlikely to lead to any attempt to prosecute you. I suspect the PCSO simply came round to your house in an attempt at “community policing”.
There is some very old law (now over 150 years old) that confirms the rules of the road apply to horses and the “spurring” of a horse can amount to negligence. There is also a basic and ancient proposition of law that if you take a horse onto the road (and a byway is, as a matter of law, a public right of way) it must “be of ordinary nerve and courage” and ridden with reasonable care and skill. Certainly in your case it sounds like the horseman did just about everything wrong by winding up his horse and he was wholly the author of his own misfortune.
RiDE Magazine April 2017