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Stop Off-road Vehicles Using Public Footpaths and the Countryside

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 20 Apr 2023 | comments*Discuss
Off Road Vehicle Public Footpaths

Everyone understands that cars, vans and motorbikes are 'vehicles', but did you know that the legal definition of a vehicle is anything with a motor? Therefore technically an electric scooter is a vehicle.

Of course laws preventing the use of vehicles on public footpaths and in the countryside are designed to prevent physical damage to the area, and reduce noise pollution. There are therefore exemptions which mean that some "vehicles" such as electric powered bicycles or electric wheelchairs are allowed in "no vehicle" areas. Check local signs or contact the Land Owner for details before using a motor-powered "vehicle" if you are unsure.

What legislation is in place to stop off-road vehicles using public footpaths and bridleways?

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 - states that it is an offence to drive a 'mechanically powered vehicle' on a footpath, bridleway or restricted bridleway.

Police Reform Act 2002 - Sections 59 and 60 of this Act give police the power to seize vehicles that are being driven in a way that causes, or is likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance. The police must however first warn the driver to stop their actions and so are only able to seize the vehicle if the driver refuses, or resumes their anti-social conduct shortly after the warning is given.

Road Traffic Act 1988 - It is an offence under Section 87 of this Act to drive a motor vehicle, that you do not hold a valid licence to drive, on a road (including a public right of way). It is also an offence to allow another person, who you know does not hold a valid licence, to drive a motor vehicle in your possession on a public road or right of way. In addition, Section 143 of the Act states that it is an offence to drive a motor vehicle without third party insurance on a public road or public right of way.

Road Traffic Act 1991 - This Act extended the scope of offences such as dangerous driving and careless driving to include off-road areas to which the public have access. Therefore if any vehicle is driven dangerously or carelessly on a public footpath, the driver may be prosecuted for dangerous or careless driving.

Environmental Protection Act 1990 - Section 79 of this Act is designed to prevent noise disturbance from off-road vehicles. Breach of this Act is punishable by a fine.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Under this Act, it is an offence to without reasonable excuse, knowingly or recklessly destroy flora, fauna or geological interest features in a site of special scientific interest. This is of course the likely result of driving a motor vehicle off-road in such a special interest area.

What attempts are being made to prevent off-road vehicles using public footpaths and bridleways?

The National Trust has invested a lot of money in putting up signs to tell people about their local area. These include:

  • Prevention signs which clearly state what types of vehicle are allowed to use the land
  • Education signs which tell people about what is in their local area and why it is important that it is protected

The National Trust have also erected hundreds of miles of physical barriers and gates to try to prevent off-road vehicles accessing footpaths.

Local Councils and police are working with communities to try to prevent use of off-road vehicles in these areas. Police have increased foot patrols in "at risk" areas, and in some districts (such as West Yorkshire), initiatives involving undercover police patrols on unclaimed lost property bicycles have led to reduction in both the use of off-road bikes as well as other anti-social behaviour and drug related crime in countryside areas.

If a public footpath is being used repeatedly for crime (for example by providing a commonly-used "get away" route for burglars on off-road vehicles), the police have powers to close and / or re-route public footpaths.

What can you do if you have concerns?

If you are worried about a high volume of off-road vehicles using public footpaths or bridleways in your area, make your concerns known:

  • Speak to your local council (most have a "contact us" page on their website
  • Telephone the police non-emergency number - 101
  • Write to your local MP
  • If on National Trust land, contact your local National Trust Branch (contact details will be on local notice boards, or you can contact them through their website)

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[Add a Comment]
Balls! A skateboard is legally a 'vehicle' therefore this entire article is an attempt to muddy the waters as to what is and isnt legal.
Skate - 20-Apr-23 @ 1:39 AM
I live on a bridleway which is constantly used by all kinds of traffic, including HGVs who take up all the available space- we've done our best to stop them as they are ruining the surface of the bridleway and making it unsafe to use, but neither the Council nor the Police wants to take the responsibility for this. The many legal users of the bridleway, horse riders, cyclists, walkers have complained and we are worried about their safety. (The motorists complain that there are too many potholes and their cars are being damaged - even though they have no rights!)The owner of the bridleway has been harassed and threatened by people who have no right to drive on it.There is another route people can use which takes an extra 5 minutes to go around, but they still constantly use the bridleway as a cut through. We go round in circles trying to sort this out and, I believe, one day, a child will be killed on it. Any suggestions?
Teejeepee - 8-Jul-21 @ 4:48 PM
I was never against off roaders it was legal , HOWEVER over the last few years as a registered blind person but with very little vision 6/60I find that bikers drive to fast and expect you to step aside for them, don't mind providing I get the opportunity. I would love to see our new government bring in tough rulesto restrict numbers riding together (normally in multipoles of 2 plus) leave it for walkers Horse riders, bicycles and stop this destruction of rural areas
saffywoo - 8-Jan-21 @ 6:07 PM
Absolutely sick of off roaders ruining the countryside, destroying the natural habitat and making public byways unfit for walking and cycling. Plus the noise nuisance it causes locals. It needs to be banned!
Mother nature - 29-Nov-20 @ 9:57 PM
To all you commentators - its pretty clear from this article that the writer is talking about illegal use of areas by motorised vehicles (and not pedal bikes with motors on them). Note the references to "prevention signs which clearly state what types of vehicle are allowed to use the land" and "prevent off-road vehicles accessing footpaths". It is illegal to drive a motorbike or a car on a footpath or a restricted byway. And some of my local vehicle groups are actually publishing maps for their members showing restricted byways as being accessible - causing conflict when challenged by others and danger to the legal users of those routes. Illegal motor vehicles are also damaging the routes, making them less accessible and are not taking any responsibility for that but simply quoting their "right" to use a route without doing any proper research.
wardlaw - 24-Nov-20 @ 11:38 AM
At no point do you explain that vehicles are legally allowed to drive byways open to all traffic or unclassified county roads. By carefully picking legislation you have inferred that driving vehicles on public rights of way is completely illegal, but there are thousands of unsurfaced rights of way that are legal public highways and can be driven in any road legal vehicle. The upshot of this bias is alarming, only last sunday a group of legal motorists were verbally attacked and had rocks thrown at them simply because the walkers they passed had no idea of the law, ignorant or not it does not excuse their behaviour! But "articles" like yours do add fuel to their anger. There have been many instances of legal motorists being challenged and attacked over the years, even the press chooses to "spin" the law to suit themselves and project anyone in the countryside in a vehicle as irresponsible or illegal. Many disabled users cannot access green spaces on foot, cycle or horseback, and so use a vehicle, taking their rights and freedom away over what is either ignorance or a purposeful misrepresentation of facts due to a personal agenda is beyond selfish. Many organisations use byways open to all traffic to train their response drivers, the 4x4 response service for example, who ensure your doctors and nurses get to work in the winter, who assist emergency services to access injured parties, mountain rescue of course use these vehicular routes too, as do farmers to access their land, power companies to access cables etc. Vehicular user groups campaign against illegal usage of rights of way, pump tens of thousands of pounds into local authority pots to help maintain rights of way, provide signage and assist with countless outdoor projects. Recently I was involved in a project on national trust land that was partly funded by vehicular user groups. Facts please and less of the bias! You'll be old one day and unable to walk where you used to, it won't mean you wont want to though, maybe a 4x4 may bring you some ability to continue to access the beautiful landscape in our country. Maybe you've walked many rights of way vehicular users have funded works on, maybe you'll need the skills of those who learned to drive them during times of bad weather, or to access a doctor who would have been stuck in the snow. Perspective is a wonderful thing, please see ours!
Sunshine - 27-Nov-19 @ 11:37 AM
I should point out for clarity, that pedal-assist mountain bikes (defined as having a max power of 250W and a max speed of 25km/h) are legally considered to be 'bicycles' for rights of way purposes. Twist-throttle e-bikes aren't, but a pedal-assist bike is. So you're allowed to ride a 'normal' e-bike on bridleways and byways.
Chipps - 24-Apr-19 @ 10:59 AM
Yes some people take libertys but then so does the other side of the table in Hertfordshire I have seen unrestricted byways with posts in the ground and gates locking people away from using the giving right to use the byway for mechanically powered vehicles, as a child I rode motorcycles and quads in the early 90s and there was not many places to go legally maybe if the encouraged people to use the unrestricted byways and had maps that didn't cost money showing where the byways were there wouldn't be such a problem but it's always against the off roader
Super - 4-Feb-17 @ 9:49 AM
Perhaps you should clarify that motor vehicles are allowed on byways.
Ben - 5-Sep-16 @ 10:11 PM
The Mother of a Teenage Son next door admits she has no control over him so goes away every weekend and leaves the semi-detached house to him and his friends who drink; take drugs;play loud music and smash bottles in the garden until all hours.I have spoken to him and her separately both calmly and in temper, but nothing I say has an effect.She says to phone the police but we do not want to have to declare a neighbour dispute if ever we sell the house.Feel so angry the little s**t is getting away with it scott-free.
Ziggy - 20-Aug-16 @ 3:31 PM
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