Legal: Gaining access to private property

Legal Feature

ABR’s legal eagle, Andrew Dalton, discusses the legality of riding on pavements for access to private property


A police officer came to my house as a neighbour had complained that I was riding my bike on the pavement to get access to my home where I park my bike in my garden. Before I respond, am I actually doing anything wrong?

Robert Clarke, Hull


The law is clear. Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 forbids riding over land which is not a highway. This is what gets you nicked if you ride across Dartmoor, a village green or a public park. It also applies to pavements, beaches and all the other places people do not customarily drive. However, there is an exception which is limited to 15 yards of travel if you are travelling to park. Therefore unless your ride across the pavement covers more than 15 yards you are in the clear.

Strangely enough parking your bike on the highway, which is apparently what your neighbour wants you to do, is technically the offence of obstructing the highway. While a technical offence it is never enforced, but if your trouble-some neighbour objects you could make your relationship even worse by pointing out that parking on the highway is an offence, whereas your conduct is not.

In conclusion, unless you are using your bike in an antisocial way, distressing or harassing your neighbours and your ‘off-roading’ is less than 15 yards and for the purposes of parking off the road, you are absolutely NOT committing an offence. Neither are any other motorcyclists or motorists who, for the purpose of access to your land, even without your permission, committing an offence if they ride on the pavement with the intention of parking on private land.

As you are not committing an of-fence it does not really bother you that this is a non-endorsable offence, but before any riders get over-excited about a non-endorsable offence meaning that they can ride over moorland, common land or generally off-road, these do have other significant powers to seize motor-cycles which are used on ‘unofficial’ off-road areas. The powers that the police have are quite limited, and some forces put out information that indicates that they can seize and crush motorcycles being used on common land.

This is only true if the motorcycle cannot be proven to be insured. Therefore if you are riding a non-street legal motocross bike on common land, your bike certainly can be seized, because you are using it in an area to which the public have access, while not insured. If you do not have a full motorcycle licence, you are committing further offences.

If you have a street-legal bike, you will have a number plate and the number plate will be traced back to you. There is a presumption in English Law that the registered keeper of a vehicle is the user of the vehicle, a presumption you can rebut, but the burden is on you to show that it was somebody else riding the bike. However, if the police give you the appropriate statutory warning notices, a repeated incident can result in your bike being seized and crushed.

The enforcement rules on off-piste riding are a complete jumble. Very few police officers understand them. This officer who is coming round to have a word with you I suspect is having a neighbourly chat with you to see if there is anything you can do to stop your neighbour whining but, if I were you, I would continue doing exactly what you are doing and you are absolutely not committing an offence.