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GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES PROPOSALS ON USE OF OFF-ROAD VEHICLES ON RIGHTS OF WAY

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Proposals to curtail the inappropriate use of mechanically propelled ...
Proposals 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.

The 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.

Alun Michael said: 'The way we use our public rights of way has

changed dramatically over the past hundred years.

'The 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.

'I 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

cultural heritage.

'These proposals now aim to balance the interests of individuals and

organisations with appropriate protection for the tranquility and

conservation value of the countryside.'

A 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.

The consultation focus es 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.

New 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 propelled vehicles.

The 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.

Earlier 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.

The 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.

In its place, the consultation proposals acknowledge this as part of

a wider problem a nd take a more direct approach to the root of the

issues.

The consultation will run until 19 March 2004. The full consultation

document is published here.

NOTES

1. Public rights of way include:

- footpaths, which give right of way on foot only;

- bridleways, which give right of way to horse riders, those leading

a horse, cyclists and pedestrians. The latter two must give way to

the former;

- roads used as public paths, which are highways other than a public

path, used mainly for the purposes for which footpaths or

bridleways are used;

- restricted byways, which give right of way on foot, horseback, to

those leading a horse, and to vehicles which are not mechanically

propelled, including cycles; and

- byways open to all traffic, which give public right of way for

vehicular traffic and all other kinds of traffic, but are used

mainly for the purposes for which footpaths and bridleways are used

2. The category known as 'roads used as public paths' does not

explicitly identify whether vehicular rights are available. Local

authorities were required by the Countryside Act 1968, and then the

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, to reclassify each RUPP as either

a byway open to all traffic, bridleway or footpath, according to the

rights which could be proved to exist. However this exercise has not

been completed in the majority of cases, and to end uncertainty RUPPs

will be replaced by the new category of restricted byways, which

provide clarity on the precise rights available.

3. Powers under the Road Traffic Act 1988, Police Reform Act 2002,

Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, Countryside and

Rights of Way Act 2000, and Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, are

available to deal with vehicles using rights of way illegally,

anti-socially or, in sensitive areas, harmfully.

4. Penalti es for offences under section 34 of the Road Traffic Act

carry a maximum fine of level 3 on the standard scale, which is

currently £1,000. Under section 28P(6) of the Wildlife and

Countryside Act 1981, intentional or reckless damage to the features

of a Site of Special Scientific Interest is liable for a fine of up

to £20,000 in magistrate's court, or an unlimited fine in a higher

court.

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