Should you tell your insurance company that you ride green lanes, and are you covered if you have an accident? ABR’s legal expert Andrew Dalton explains all.
You may have noticed some insurers are asking on your proposal form if you ride your motorcycle anywhere other than public roads. This is causing some consternation among those of us who take their motorcycles out on Britain’s byway network.
If your bike gets muddy, you might refer to unsealed highways as being ‘off-road’, but as a matter of law, this is an incorrect definition. The insurers are interested in whether or not your bike goes on track days or, perhaps, is used in enduro.
This follows a case called Vnuk from the European Court of Justice which, notwithstanding Brexit, still remains good law in the United Kingdom.
Why do insurers ask?
The particular facts of Vnuk are not especially exciting, but the outcome means that an insurer is liable for harm which arises from the use of the vehicle in question, and the use of the vehicle is defined very widely. On the back of this, insurers found themselves on the hook for track day incidents.
So, the reason they ask you if you ride your motorcycle anywhere other than public roads is this. If you say no, and you give some other track day junkie a battering with your bike, your insurers are still liable, but because you have said you do not use your motorcycle away from public roads, your insurers can come after any assets you have to reimburse their outlay.
Because insurers are slippery buggers, you need to get the law right. If you ride green lanes, you use unsealed highways. A highway in law has four characteristics.
The first is that it must be open to the public at large. Secondly, the public can use it by right rather than by permission. Thirdly, it must follow a defined route, and fourthly, the right for the public to use it must be for passage rather than, for example, a village green which can be used for grazing or village fetes.
Am I insured to ride green lanes?
Of course, a byway open to all traffic meets these four tests. It has been established law since 1932 that a river course which meets these four tests can also be a highway, so the absence of tarmac is neither here nor there as a matter of law. Indeed, looking at some of our battered country roads, tarmac seems an optional extra on a number of minor county roads.
In order for a policy of road traffic insurance to be sold in the United Kingdom. it must cover harm or loss to third parties. Long before the European Court of Justice ruled on Vnuk, it was well established in English and Welsh law that cover extends to all areas to which the public have access.
Therefore, your bike insurance covers you for riding on unsealed roads which meet the four definitions of a highway set out above. If you go off-piste and find yourself on a bridleway, your insurer would have to meet any harm to a third party because it is an area to which the public have access.
Of course, there will be a strong presumption of negligence against you for simply being on a bridleway, where you have no right to be with your motorcycle, but insurance covers you for negligence.
So, for me as someone who uses green lanes in England and Wales, I do not need to make any special declarations. If I’m asked if I ride my motorcycle anywhere other than public roads, the answer is no.