OTHER VOICES

Cars and horses

Posted June 18, 2012, at 4:40 p.m.

On May 13, Cathy Pressey took herself for what she calls her “Mother’s Day Road Ride.”

A horse owner living in Mechanic Falls, she usually takes her ride on wooded trails, but this year the trails were too wet so she and her horse ventured out for a ride along Route 124.

Large traffic signs warn motorists to expect to see horses and riders on that road. But when Pressey crossed a bridge and encountered two cars, a motorcycle and an 18-wheeler, not one of these vehicles slowed down in deference to Pressey and her horse, even though it’s the law in Maine to do so.

Maine statute — Title 29-A, Chapter 19, section 2055 — clearly governs how motorists are to pass horses and riders.

• If driving in the same direction, slow down and use reasonable caution in passing the animal.

• If traveling in the opposite direction and the horse is clearly frightened, vehicles must be stopped and stay stopped until the horse and rider have passed.

• Stuff cannot be thrown at horses and horses cannot be purposely startled.

We are not supposed to scare these animals because it endangers the rider. Yet, people do it all the time.

And, according to Pressey, a 62-year-old woman who has been riding on Maine roads for the past 41 years, it’s getting worse.

Maybe that’s because the civil penalty for violating the statute is a mere $139, which seems a pittance for a lack of caution that carries such potential for harm.

Think about this from Pressey’s position, atop her horse.

She’s riding along on a steady pace and a car whips by, sometimes passing as close as a foot to her left side. The horse — already jumpy because of whistling wind, barking dogs, children screaming in a nearby yard, a looming thunderstorm, whatever — will naturally move to flee in self-preservation.

And fleeing might mean darting into the center of the road, directly into oncoming traffic.

Even the most well-trained horses are, fundamentally, driven by instinct.

On Mother’s Day, Pressey was crossing a bridge with low, concrete sides when a tractor-trailer started crossing the bridge in the opposite direction at speed. She motioned for the driver to slow down and he did not. “He was ignoring me,” she said, even though she was clearly visible and the horse was agitated.

The horse, she said, “got shook up and turned sideways” across the lane. She managed to bring him around pretty quickly, but it was a heart-stopping moment for her as she watched the truck approaching.

If she hadn’t been able to control him, the horse could have continued across the centerline or gone over the side of the bridge. Either option could have meant serious harm to the animal and to Pressey.

That unpredictability of animals is the very reason the law is clear about actions required of drivers approaching animals. Passing slowly is less likely to frighten a horse and allows more leeway for the handler to get a jittery animal under control.

We are certain no driver ignores the law because they want to hurt horses and riders. They ignore the law because they’re in too much of a hurry to yield the right of way, to provide a moment of grace to a rider.

Thousands of horse and vehicle accidents occur every year in this country, injuring hundreds of drivers, passengers and riders, sometimes fatally.

Horses are lawfully permitted to travel on our roads and we are legally obligated to use caution when passing.

Yielding to a horse on the road isn’t just about courtesy. It’s a basic responsibility to ensure safety for ourselves and others.

No motorist should ever be in such a hurry that they’re willing to injure or kill someone to stay on schedule.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (June 18)

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