Vehicles in the countryside
Guidance on the Use and Management of Motor Vehicles on Rights of Way and Unsurfaced Roads in the Countryside
Where can motor vehicles go in the countryside?
In addition to ordinary public vehicular roads with a tarmac surface, motor vehicles can legally be driven on many unsurfaced roads and Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) – provided that such use is not prohibited by a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO).
In this context, the term ‘unsurfaced roads’ refers to Unclassified County Roads (UCRs) without a sealed surface and where motor vehicular rights are known or presumed to exist. UCRs are highways recorded by the County Council on the List of Streets as maintainable at public expense.
A BOAT is a route that is recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement and carries rights for pedestrians, equestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, cycles and motor vehicles, but which is used mainly by the public for the purposes for which a footpath or bridleway is used.
Motor vehicles using UCRs and BOATs must be fully ‘road legal’ (i.e. licence, tax, insurance and MOT), and must obey the normal rules of the road.
You may also encounter vehicles on footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways that are being driven by the landowner, or with the landowners permission. In this case they are exercising a private right and not a public right.
Before using a UCR or BOAT with a motorised vehicle, or if you are concerned about motorised vehicles using one of these routes, please check the status of the route and whether or not there is already a Traffic Regulation Order in force on it.
Motorised vehicles should be driven responsibly at all times. Driving a motor vehicle on a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or any other land without lawful authority is a criminal offence. Causing damage to a public right of way, whether intentionally or not, may also constitute an offence.
Does Hampshire County Council have a policy on motor vehicles in the countryside?
- See our Policy and Policy statement on next tab
What is meant by ‘responsible behaviour’ for motorised users?
Motorised users should
- Follow the Countryside Code and Highway code.
- Give way to walkers, horses and cyclists, and consider stopping and turning off the engine until other users have safely passed.
- Drive at an appropriate speed so as not to cause surface damage, be a danger or nuisance to other users, or create excessive noise.
- Plan a route using our online maps, checking that all intended routes do carry public vehicular rights and are not subject to Traffic Regulation Orders.
- Use a route to travel from A-B in a responsible manner. Travelling back and forth in the same area for an extended period, or creating a circuit by using land to the side of a route, can cause excessive damage and constitutes a nuisance.
- Keep to the route of the BOAT or UCR. The land crossed by public rights of way is often in private ownership and the land to either side is likely to be private land with no public right of access. Accessing private land without lawful authority constitutes an offence and may also result in criminal damage.
- Vehicles must be road legal (with tax, mot, insurance etc) and you must hold an appropriate licence to drive it.
- Avoid routes which are vulnerable in wet weather and comply with any voluntary restraints, particularly those endorsed by the TRF or LARA.
- Report any instances of irresponsible or illegal use and consider the promotion of responsible behavior to other motorised users
What happens if motor vehicles are being driven irresponsibly or illegally?
If you have come across an example of illegal use of vehicles in the countryside, this is a police matter. Inform the police by contacting your local Country Watch Team by dialling 101 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with details of where and when the offence took place and request a crime reference number.
What can Hampshire County Council do if motor vehicles are causing a problem on a particular path or way?
If the problem is one of possible illegal use, the Council will work with the police to try to ensure that the law is enforced. Illegal activity is not a ground on which a TRO can be made.
If the use is not illegal, but is causing problems because it is damaging the surface of the route, or because it is through a particularly sensitive area, the Council will look at ways to improve the management of the route to prevent or reduce the problems that may exist. This could mean carrying out surface repairs, improving drainage, erecting better signage or working with motorised user groups to promote good conduct or a voluntary restraint. If other approaches are trialled but fail to resolve the problem, a Traffic Regulation Order may be considered.
What is a Traffic Regulation Order?
A Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) is a legal order made under the provisions of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 that can be applied to any public highway, including public Footpaths, Bridleways, Restricted Byways and Byways Open to All Traffic (BOAT).
What can a Traffic Regulation Order do?
A TRO can prohibit or restrict the use of a public path or way by a specific class of traffic (pedestrians, equestrians, cycles, horse-drawn vehicles or motor vehicles of a specified type).
TROs can have a range of effects, but are most commonly used to restrict or prohibit use by motor vehicles. They can restrict;
- all motor vehicles
- motor vehicles with three (or four) or more wheels only
- motor vehicles above a certain width or weight
They can be seasonal or year-round, permanent or experimental. TROs can also be combined with a permit scheme to allow a certain level of use, or restrict those who do not use a particular lane responsibly.
When can a Traffic Regulation Order be used?
In deciding whether to impose a TRO on a route, Hampshire County Council must act within the constraints of sections 1 and 122 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act and the Council’s published TRO Policy and Policy Statement. This guidance should be read in conjunction with those documents.
Restricting the rights of a specific group is not taken lightly and as such a TRO is always a last resort. Efforts will be made to manage the issues that exist on a particular route through other means before considering the use of a TRO. In accordance with the Council’s policy and government guidance, the least restrictive option will be sought in each case.
Other approaches that will be considered and/or trialled before a TRO will be considered include;
- surface repairs, drainage works or other physical works.
- promotion of a voluntary restraint scheme to discourage use by motor vehicles during certain times of the year or in larger groups.
- promotion of a code of good conduct for all users of motorised vehicles.
It is important that any proposal to impose a TRO is based on evidence, either of damage or of specific incidents, rather than a general feeling that a particular route is unsuitable for use by motor vehicles.
It is not appropriate to use a TRO to resolve issues of illegal activity, such as fly-tipping, dangerous/damaging driving (such as ‘mud-plugging’), or the use of a public right of way to access adjacent private land to drive illegally. The police have powers to address such illegal activity and any such incidents should be reported to them, requesting a crime reference number.
How can a TRO be enforced?
It is an offence to contravene a TRO. The Council does not have any powers to enforce a TRO, but will work with the police to encourage action to be taken where appropriate. In order for the police to be able to take action it is important that the required highway signs advertising the prohibition are displayed prominently at each end of the route and at junctions with other routes carrying public vehicular rights. These can have an unwelcome visual impact in a rural area and this needs to be taken into account when considering the use of a TRO.
Larger four wheel drive vehicles can be physically restricted by use of a Kent Carriage Gap or similar width restriction. It is not always possible to provide an effective barrier against smaller motorised vehicles and motorbikes, owing to the need to maintain unrestricted access for disabled path users, horses and horse-drawn vehicles and pedal cycles. However, some structures have proved to be effective deterrents including motorbike inhibitors, gates, horse stiles and sometimes a combination. The cost of access barriers is another aspect that needs be taken into account when considering the appropriateness of a particular TRO.
How is it decided which type of TRO to use?
Should it be decided that a TRO is the best option in a particular case, the type of TRO that is considered to be suitable will be determined by a number of factors, including;
- the physical condition of the route and potential seasonal changes
- the specific problems that exist
- whether there is private vehicular access along the route
- the context of the route – whether it is in a protected area, such as a National Park or Site of Special Scientific Interest, or perhaps a more urban area
- safety - limited widths can present difficulties for users to pass safely, or access onto a main highway may be of concern.
How is a TRO made?
When considering a TRO, the Council will first consult with user groups, the parish and district council, local Councillors, the police and local path users.
Following this consultation, if the TRO is still considered to be a suitable option in light of the consultation feedback, a report is considered by the Executive Member for Culture and Recreation. Should the proposal be approved, the TRO will then be formally advertised to seek feedback from a wider audience.
Following this formal consultation the original proposal may be amended (if appropriate), before a final report is considered by the Executive Member seeking permission to make the proposed TRO. Once this approval has been given the TRO would then be made.
This process can take in excess of 6 months, depending on how contentious a particular proposal proves to be.
How can a review of a particular route be requested?
Where concerns exist regarding the condition or use of a particular route, Parish Councils can request a review of the route by Hampshire County Council, using the appropriate form. To enable the request to be fully considered it is important that as much information as possible is provided.
Policy for the Management of Traffic on Hampshire’s Public Rights of Way Network and the Use of Traffic Regulation Orders
1. The legislation which gives highway authorities the powers to impose Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) is the Road Traffic Regulation Act of 1984. Section 1 of the Act sets out the powers and describes the circumstances or criteria which have to met for this power to be exercised.
2. Hampshire County Council’s approach to the use of these powers is to consider every individual case on its merits. It will consider whether a TRO is appropriate for a specific path rather than consider the implementation of TROs for an area. The policy and individual decisions taken should, wherever possible, be in accordance with the guidance set out in the revised version of ‘Making the Best of Byways’ and recent Government Guidance document entitled ‘Regulating the Use of Motor Vehicles on Public Rights of Way and Off-Road”
3. If a previously unrecorded route is added to the Definitive Map as a route with public vehicular rights, or if the recorded status of a route is changed to show the existence of public vehicular rights, then the County Council will only consider the restriction of vehicles if there are specific local circumstances which warrant such action. However, where there is no evidence of significant use of the route by motor vehicles in the previous twenty years then the presumption will be that this traffic should be prohibited.
4. Road Traffic Regulation Act Criteria: The criteria will be considered in relation to the circumstances which exist in each specific case.
5. Every Traffic Regulation Order will be reviewed by HCC officers at least once every three years to see if the circumstances which led to the imposition of the Order still apply. The conclusions of the review should be made publicly available.
6. The response to a problem or a potential problem should always be the least restrictive necessary. The Council will consider a series of other options before considering the implementation of a TRO. If a TRO is to be considered it should be the least restrictive necessary.
If a problem exists which is due to the use, or likely future use, of a route by certain types of traffic then the following must be considered
- Allowing traffic to continue to use the route but undertaking closer monitoring of use and impact of use over a period (usually several months).
- Assessing whether private use of the route is a contributory factor and if so liaising with those responsible to find a solution.
- Undertaking remedial works to a standard which can support the expected level of public use of the route.
If the problem is deemed to be more severe, and the above measures have not worked or would not work, the following options will be considered:
- The use of signs requesting particular classes of traffic to desist from use at times when such use would be harmful (Eg. after rain or over winter). In addition, asking known contacts within user groups to publicise the case and to ask that the route identified be avoided for a period of time, or at certain times of the year, depending upon the nature of the problem
- If the problem is one deemed to be caused by public use of the route by motor vehicles, the Council can ask the organised groups to agree to promote a ‘Voluntary Restraint’ (VR) by certain classes of vehicles and/or at certain times of the year. These VRs are accompanied by LARA (Land Access and Recreation Association) signs and an agreement that members of LARA and affiliated societies are asked to abide by the restraint being promoted.
- If a VR is deemed to be insufficient, or has been tried but been unsuccessful, then the next consideration is the implementation of a Traffic Regulation Order. Again, this should be the least restrictive necessary. Consideration will be given to limiting the restriction to as short a period as is necessary and should only apply at certain times of year if appropriate. In particular, if there is an immediate risk, consideration should be given to the implementation of an ‘Experimental TRO’ as described in the recent Government guidance. Although these can be imposed quickly they must then be subject to the same decision making process as non-experimental TROs and, in any event, the legislation does not allow for these to be in place for longer than 18 months.
Process for Making a Traffic Regulation Order
If a proposal for a TRO is to be considered, the details of what is most appropriate may change before the TRO is actually made. Interested parties including the owners or managers of the land, local councils and user groups should be informed of such changes and have the opportunity to comment. A summary of the responses and proposed action should be made available to all consultees. The same contacts will also be notified when a proposed TRO is to be considered by the Executive Member.
This flow chart is a simplified representation of the process
Whatever the outcome feedback will be provided to those consulted.
7. Provision of Information. An annual report will be produced and made publicly available which lists:
- all the existing TROs in the county,
- dates they commenced, the reasons why the TROs have been made and are still in place,
- the traffic prohibited and at what times,
- dates and conclusions of reviews undertaken,
- details of remedial works which are planned.
This information will also be constantly available on the County Council Countryside Service web pages.
8. Signage and Barriers
Unless enforcement or non-compliance difficulties arise signs and barriers will be limited to those which are necessary to achieve the intended effect of the Order. A minimum in every case will be a permanent sign which explains clearly in words, with easily understood graphics, the traffic which is prohibited from using the route and at what times. If barriers are necessary every reasonable attempt will be made to physically allow access to the traffic which is not prohibited by the Order. This will include the use of the ‘Kent Carriage Gap’ where the intention is to prohibit access by 4 wheeled vehicles but allow horse drawn carriages to continue to use the route. The Kent Carriage Gap is a series of low bollards which are placed suffuciently close together to allow most carriages through but too close to allow access for most motor vehicles.
9. County Council officers will help encourage Hampshire Police to monitor adherence to all Traffic Regulation Orders across the county and to take appropriate enforcement action. In particular HCC officers will encourage local Police to take action against offenders where clear problems exist.
Approved by the Executive Member for Recreation and Heritage on 18 May 2006
Traffic Regulation Orders
The Traffic Regulation Orders (TRO) list does not cover Temporary Closures, which are made under Section 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.
Details of all orders currently being advertised will appear on our public notices pages.