Alun Michael Launches Proposals On Use Of Off-Road
Vehicles On Rights Of Way
to curtail the inappropriate use of mechanically propelled vehicles
on countryside rights of way are outlined in a public consultation
launched today by Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael.
consultation responds to widespread concern about problems caused
by the use of mechanically propelled vehicles - including motorbikes,
quad bikes and 4x4s - whose users can currently claim rights of
way for such vehicles on the basis that the routes were historically
employed by horse-drawn carriages.
way we use our public rights of way has changed dramatically over
the past hundred years.
use made of them today is often inconsistent with the uses for which
they were originally established - in many cases long before the
internal combustion engine was invented. Over time, the process
for acquiring rights for the use of modern vehicles has also become
inappropriate and unsustainable.
am acutely aware of the concern shared by members of the public,
and from conservation and recreation organisations, about evidence
of damage to fragile tracks and other aspects of our natural and
proposals now aim to balance the interests of individuals and organisations
with appropriate protection for the tranquility and conservation
value of the countryside."
public right of way can be established through historical documentary
sources, on the basis of long public use of a route, or through
express dedication. The Road Traffic Act 1930 made it a criminal
offence to drive a motor vehicle on a footpath, bridleway, or elsewhere
than on a road, which means that while some pre-1930 vehicular rights
may have been acquired through motor vehicle use most were acquired
through use by horse and cart. Similarly, express dedication of
rights of way for vehicles largely arose before mechanically propelled
vehicles were in common use.
consultation focuses on three main areas:
The better enforcement of existing powers to manage vehicle use;
A limit to the basis on which new rights of way may be acquired
for mechanically propelled vehicles, and
An end to the situation whereby historic use by horse-drawn vehicles,
or dedications made before the existence of the internal combustion
engine, can give rise to a right of use by modern mechanically propelled
vehicles. This will provide greater certainty about the public vehicular
rights that exist.
legislation would utilise the category of 'restricted byway', introduced
by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, to prevent future
use by non-mechanically vehicles giving rise to rights for mechanically
legislation would, with some exceptions, also introduce a cut-off
date a year from commencement, from when it would no longer be possible
to establish a 'byway open to all traffic' on the evidence of past
use by non-mechanically propelled vehicles.
Government action towards addressing these problems has included
strengthening section 34 of the Road Traffic Act - so that the burden
of proof that vehicular rights exist now rests with the defence,
rather than the prosecution - and extending the scope of the Act
to include all mechanically propelled vehicles, since the legal
definition of a 'motor vehicle' did not cover some commonly used
vehicles including off-road bikes and quad bikes.
new proposals also take account of the Government's decision not
to proceed with implementation of the new section 34A of the Road
Traffic Act 1988. This had sought to limit the circumstances in
which a defence could be offered against the charge of driving on
certain rights of way, but now has been rejected because of its
incompatibility with European human rights legislation.
its place, the consultation proposals acknowledge this as part of
a wider problem and take a more direct approach to the root of the
consultation will run until 19 March 2004. The full consultation
document is published online at www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/cl/publicrow.htm.
Issued by : DEFRA Press Office
DEPARTMENT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS
ref :52103 9 December 2003