Increasing numbers of riders are wearing high-visibility vests on the road, but some designs have caused disquiet among senior police in Britain.
The British Horse Society received a letter earlier this year from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) voicing concerns over the similarities of some vests to those worn by mounted officers.
Assistant Chief Constable Rod Hansen, the association’s spokesman on mounted policing policing, said: “Over recent months a number of examples of high visibility equine apparel have been brought to my attention.
“These articles have caused concern to the police on the grounds that individuals wearing them are likely to be mistaken for being a police officer due to the design closely resembling police uniform.”
Hansen said he sought advice on the legality of the designs, which he said identified three main characteristics of police high-visibility uniform: POLICE printed as a contrasting block of letters prominently displayed to the rear and/or front, yellow colouring, and chequered banding.
“The conclusion of these inquiries is that any item of clothing that has been manufactured to match these characteristics of police uniform is at risk of contravening legislation, namely Section 90 Police Act 1996.”
Further, any wording similar in appearance to POLICE, even if is spelt differently, would leave the wearer at risk of breaching the law, particularly if the other characteristics are present, Hansen said.
Hansen’s reference to similar wording appeared to be in reference to two vests, one marketed with the word POLITE on the back, and the other with the word PLEASE – both part of messages urging motorists to be careful.
The horse society contacted two manufacturers for their response, with V-Bandz saying it had withdrawn all its chequered products from sale in early January, after it received revised guidelines from the police.
It said it would be replacing all its ‘PLEASE’ waistcoats and offering to amend horse apparel.
“We do not want riders to continue to use their V-Bandz chequered products as the clarification has shown they have the potential to contravene the act,” V-Bandz spokeswoman Fiona Kennedy said.
Nicola Fletcher, the managing director of Equisafey, which markets the POLITE range, said the vest was only manufactured after the ACPO’s Commander Robert Broadhurst, then spokesman for the mounted police, commented: “Provided there is no deliberate attempt to impersonate Police there is very little we can do other than perhaps ask them to ensure the word looks more like polite than police. Assuming they have no items of police uniform it is unlikely the public will mistake them for us, but if they do it will just be another High Visibility Patrol which should add to the reassurance picture.”
Fletcher said: “The law regarding this is so ambiguous as to be confusing, otherwise the new ACPO lead for the mounted police would not have had to interpret the law and issue ‘new’ guidelines, which are at best unclear and perhaps even more confusing than ever.
“The implementation of the ‘new’ guidelines is also quite irresponsible and could certainly cause riders to remove their high-visibilty clothing if approached by an officer and we are also completely astounded by it.
“We are not aware of a single criminal act of intent to impersonate a Police Officer in the past three years of selling the POLITE range,” she said.
“We categorically do not recommend you remove your hi-visibility products whilst on a public highway.”
The horse society offered no comment or advice, adding: “We simply wish to inform our members and the general public of the situation.”