Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates (CCHA) is a local non-profit whose mission is to improve the conditions of Charleston’s working animals and to voice community concerns about the carriage industry.
CCHA along with other stakeholders, including the Preservation Society of Charleston, Charleston Animal Society, Charlestown Neighborhood Association, and the Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, have advocated for enhanced regulation of the Charleston carriage industry in an effort to address the risk of bodily injury that animal-drawn carriages pose to residents, visitors, industry employees, and the working animals.
CCHA has taken the initiative of crafting a proposed ordinance that, if enacted, would ensure the industry operates commensurate with the minimum standards required by other jurisdictions or for commercial operators in industries that also use Charleston rights-of-way. The goal here is not to be overly technical but, instead, to pose common sense requirements that represent the minimum the City should require of the carriage industry.
Why now? As the tragic incident last summer involving a runaway horse that was euthanized as a result of injuries sustained in the incident underscores, the risk of runaway and spooked animals is ever-present. Given this backdrop, it is always appropriate for city council to think proactively about addressing the risk of runaway animals, rather than waiting for inevitable calamites to occur and then look back wishing it had done better.
Since 2016, there have been over 110 carriage-related incidents. 12 runaways have been documented and 20 bodily injuries have been reported. It is beyond dispute that even the most docile and trained horses can runaway, that runaway horses are a danger to themselves and the community. Most importantly, it is appropriate and necessary for the City to codify even the most obvious safety practices in fulfilling its duty to regulate an industry operating on public rights of way.
Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates has put together several proposals to ensure Charleston government is doing at least the minimum necessary to improve safety for wagon passengers, pedestrians and automobile drivers and passengers. Members of City Council have urged the City Administration to push forward on reviewing the Citizen Carriage Safety ordinance so that it can be presented and discussed.
The carriage industry’s arguments on safety typically fall into two camps, both of which are easily dispelled.
First, the industry argues that it is perfectly capable of regulating itself and there is no need for additional governmental intervention. This is a common refrain of any industry that does not want additional regulation. Even so, assuming that there are members of the industry that are meeting and exceeding the duties we propose to minimize hazards, it is important that 1) every member of the industry adhere to the same requirements, 2) city officials have a mechanism to ensure compliance, and 3) in the event an accident occurs, the city is equipped with an ordinance that allows for appropriate after-the-fact penalties and corrective action. Recently passed by City Council is a minor tweak to the city ordinance to prescribe a hitching/unhitching protocol—a common sense procedure that operators would have undoubtedly claimed they followed before the latest incident. Most of the industry via the Charleston CARES consortium expressed its support for the ordinance, representing their agreement that it is appropriate for the city to memorialize common-sense safety requirements in the ordinance.
Second, the industry argues that accidents—and specifically, runaway animals—occur so infrequently as to present an immaterial risk to the public. Not so.
Media reports explain that the industry gives approximately 40,000 tours per year, for a four-year incident rate of approximately 1 in 20,000. That seems like a low risk at first glance. But it is a shockingly high risk on a per-trip basis. For the sake of comparison the BCDCOG 2006-2015 study found that Broad Street sees, on average, 11,000 vehicles per day, every day of the year. At an incident rate of 1 in 20,000, the industry’s track record is equivalent to a vehicle randomly careening down Broad Street every two days. If we considered all vehicular traffic south of Calhoun, the risk would be even greater, as it would if we considered risk on a per-mile basis among different methods of transportation. Surely if that were happening, city leadership would take immediate steps to address the public safety risk. And if the city did nothing, the electorate would demand it.
The Citizen Carriage Safety Ordinance focuses on:
Drivers—Without adequate training, drug and alcohol screening, and manpower, we can add safety improvements like the hitching ordinance in piecemeal fashion but to what end if those responsible for handling animals are not equipped or capable of doing so?
Carriages/Wagons—Require minimum standards to guard against runaway carriages for the safety of consumers and the public, along with an independent engineering inspection of these vehicles that have disparate and in some instances unknown origins
Minors—Require the permission of parents or legal guardians and prohibit minors from being seated immediately adjacent to the roadway.
Transparency—The public has a right to know more about the animals and operators using city streets and, including their prior experience — if any—working in an urban environment.
While CCHA has been vocal about the working/living conditions of animals on Charleston’s streets, this proposed ordinance does not address these conditions. CCHA will continue working for more humane temperature, rest, load and other standards in the future, while also believing that improving safety will hopefully minimize the risk for animals as well as residents and visitors
Currently, the City Department of Livability is reviewing the Draft Citizen Carriage Safety Ordinance. We are awaiting that review to be completed. Concerned residents will need to urge their elected officials to pass this comprehensive carriage safety ordinance. Certainly, lives are at stake as is the City’s immense liability (and horrible optics) when someone or their child is maimed or killed without adequate safety provisions in place by the City.
Letters of Endorsement: The Preservation Society of Charleston, Charlestowne Neighborhood Association, Historic Ansonborough Neighborhood Association, Charleston Animal Society.
 https://www.preservationsociety.org/assets/real/FULL-TRAFIC-COUNT-DOCUMENT.pdf/, at p. 6.