Traffic Regulation Orders

A Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) is a legal tool which allows a local authority, or a national park authority, to restrict, regulate or prevent the use of any named road. The word ‘road’ includes footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic (BOAT), and the word ‘traffic’ includes cyclists and walkers.

Such an order mustn’t stop walkers from reaching premises. If the road is a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or BOAT, then an order may also regulate or prohibit use by horse riders. The most common use of TROs is to impose restrictions such as speed limits and one-way streets, but they can be used to important effect on public rights of way.

The basics

The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 says that local authorities must exercise their traffic regulation powers to secure the safe passage of all traffic, including walkers, horse riders, cyclists and motor and horse-drawn vehicles.

A TRO doe n’t extinguish any rights, whether public or private, over a road, but may make it an offence to exercise such rights. A person who disobeys a TRO commits a criminal offence, for which the maximum penalty is currently a £1,000 fine.

Grounds and procedures for making TROs

A TRO may be permanent, temporary or experimental, or may be imposed to allow the holding of a special event (a special event order).

Permanent TROs

The grounds for making a permanent TRO are extensive:

  • For avoiding danger to people or other traffic using the road, or preventing danger arising
  • For preventing damage to the road or to any building on or near the road
  • For facilitating the passage on the road or any other road of any class of traffic (including people on foot)
  • For preventing the use of the road by vehicule traffic where that use is unsuitable bearing in mind the existing character of the road or adjoining property
  • For preserving the character of the road in a case where it is especially suitable for use by walkers or horse riders
  • For preserving or improving the amenities of the area through which the road runs
  • For conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of an area, or affording better opportunities for the public to enjoy the amenities of the area, for recreation or nature study
  • For the purpose of avoiding, reducing or preventing the danger and/or damage connected with terrorism

Before making a permanent TRO, an authority must consult with organisations representing people likely to be affected by it. No organisations are listed in the legislation, so an authority is able to exercise its judgement in deciding who to consult.

Notice of a proposed TRO must advertised in a local newspaper, sent to consultees, and placed on site. An on site notice only applies if the authority considers it desirable to give adequate publicity to the order. At least 21 days must be allowed for objections to be received.

A proposed order, together with a map showing its effect and indicating alternative routes (if any), must be made available for public inspection throughout the objection period. Unlike the procedure for making permanent public path orders to close or divert paths, there’s no requirement to hold an inquiry if objections are received to a TRO, although an authority can hold one if it wishes.

If an authority decides to go ahead with a TRO after this consultation process it must tell any objectors, and advertise the fact in the press. It must also keep a copy of the order available for public inspection for a further six weeks.

Once a TRO has been made notices must be displayed explaining its effect in a prominent position at each end of the road to which it applies. If an alternative route is available notices must give details of its location at the points where users would need to divert onto the alternative route. This information must remain in place and legible for as long as the order remains in force.

Temporary TROs

Authorities also have the power to make temporary Traffic Regulation Orders to restrict or prohibit the use of any road. These are the type of TROs which are most commonly encountered by those undertaking rights of way work.

The grounds for making a temporary TRO are as follows:

  • Because works (e.g. road repairs) are being or are proposed to be undertaken on or near the road
  • Because of the likelihood of danger to the public, or of serious damage to the road, which is not attributable to such works
  • To enable an authority to undertake its litter clearing and cleaning duties
  • For a purpose relating to danger or damage connected with terrorism

Temporary TROs made in respect of footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways or BOATs only last for six months in the first instance, although an authority can apply to the Secretary of State for Transport for an extension to the initial six-month period.

Although this step should impose some accountability on the Secretary of State when exercising these powers, in practice, applications to extend temporary TROs are rarely refused. There appears to be no time limit to extensions sanctioned by the Secretary of State.

Special events orders

A ‘special events order’ can be made if a local authority is satisfied that traffic on a road should be restricted or prohibited for the purposes of:

  • Facilitating the holding of a ‘relevant event’
  • Enabling members of the public to watch a relevant event
  • Reducing the disruption of traffic likely to be caused by a relevant event

A relevant event is defined as any sporting event, social event or entertainment which is held on a road. These provisions were introduced when the Tour de France first held a stage in England in 1994.

No rules have ever been made setting out the public consultation and notice-giving procedures an authority must follow when making a special events order. However, the Road Traffic Regulation Act itself does say that before making a special events order an authority must be satisfied that the event couldn’t be held other than on a road.

Special events orders can’t be applied to the same road (or stretch of road) more than once within the same calendar year and can’t remain in force for more than three days. The exception is when such orders are made by the Secretary of State in which case, subject to certain criteria being met, longer periods are allowed.

Experimental TROs

These may be made for up to 18 months and can renewed for one further 18-month period by application to the Secretary of State for Transport.

Alternative routes

An authority doesn’t have the power to create a temporary alternative to a road restricted by a TRO. In some cases nearby highways won’t be suitable for traffic ‘diverted’ from a restricted road - it may be, for example, that the ‘alternative route’ to a closed footpath is a busy main road. In other cases an alternative route may not exist at all.

Whilst the law says that order-making authorities must ‘have regard’ to the safety and convenience of alternative routes, a TRO can still be made in the absence of a safe or convenient alternative.

The misuse of TROs

Because an authority isn’t required to hold an inquiry into a proposed TRO, there’s limited opportunity for public views on such an order to be properly taken into account. Unlike the procedure for public path orders, authorities can make TROs without scrutiny by an independent arbitrator. The requirement to submit requests for extensions to temporary TROs is little more than a rubber-stamping exercise.

We’re concerned that the lack of accountability inherent in an authority’s exercise of its traffic regulation powers, and the wide range of grounds on which they may be made, means that they can be used to keep paths closed in situations where funding is not available to enable the authority to keep paths in a proper state of repair.

In cases where an authority may have made a TRO unreasonably members of the public can apply to the High Court for a Judicial Review of the authority’s decision.

TROs and ‘green lanes’

Many ‘green lanes’ (the term commonly used to describe byways open to all traffic (BOATs), restricted byways and unsurfaced unclassified roads (UCRs)) are obvious candidates for TROs. Although all BOATs and many UCRs carry vehicular rights on the basis that they were formerly horse and cart routes, their unsealed surfaces are often unsuitable for modern vehicles such as trail bikes and 4x4s.

Where any of the grounds for making a permanent TRO are met, for example for preserving the character of a road where it’s especially suitable for use by walkers and horse riders, any member of the public can lobby their local authority for a TRO to prohibit motor vehicles from a named road, or to prohibit them at a particular time of the year.

National park authorities have been given their own powers to make Traffic Regulation Orders over rights of way and other unsurfaced highways within national parks.

See the further reading section below for more information on these issues.

Applying TROs where use is unlawful

TROs can be used to control use of a kind which is either not permitted, or is prohibited by law, on a given road. A TRO might, for example, be used in a case where horse riders or cyclists or motor vehicles were causing a nuisance on a footpath (where there’s a public right of way on foot only) even though such use would already be a matter of trespass or, in the case of motor vehicles, a separate statutory offence.

There’s good reason for applying a TRO to restrict traffic in such situations. Trespass, which is the wrong done when a person enters and remains on land without lawful authority, isn’t usually a criminal offence, and the remedy is a civil action, not a prosecution.

The application of a TRO introduces the offence of contravening the TRO which is more robust than a civil action for trespass. In addition, even in cases where the activity in question has the express consent and approval of the landowner, an authority’s traffic regulation powers may be used to stop it.

Further reading