Rights of way and motor vehicles

We work to ensure that the activities of users of recreational motor vehicles do not endanger or disturb walkers, or damage the country paths which they use.

The issue


Paths which don’t have sealed surfaces can be damaged by motor vehicles, making them difficult to use and costly for local authorities to repair.  Use of these paths by motor vehicles can also spoil the quiet enjoyment of the countryside for walkers, horse riders, pedal cyclists and horse drawn carriage drivers.  


Although there is a legal right to drive motor vehicles on paths classified as Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs), and on other unsealed roads which carry rights for motor vehicles (often called ‘green lanes’), the use of motor vehicles on footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways is illegal in most circumstances, and should be reported to the police.

Our position 


Laws exist to protect these routes but they are inadequately enforced.  We believe there should be:  

  • Proper enforcement of the law which prohibits the driving of motor vehicles on footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways (with use of criminal proceedings and confiscation of vehicles where appropriate).

  • Timely use of traffic regulation orders (TROs) to prohibit the use of recreational motor vehicles on BOATs and other unsealed roads, particularly within National Parks and AONBs, and on National Trails, to protect paths from damage, and in the interests of non-motorised users.

Without consistent and comprehensive application use of these measures, the most cost-effective protection of these routes inevitably lies with new legislation.

Government action

There are still disputes about the status of some of these routes, and complex legislation and case law which has developed over a period of more than 60 years has failed to resolve the issues surrounding the use of motor vehicles and rights of way. 

During the passage of the Deregulation Bill through Parliament in the summer of 2014 the government made a commitment to establish a stakeholder working group to re-examine these issues.  We support the principle of such a group but believe its operation should be time-limited, and its recommendations put out swiftly for full public consultation.

Background to the issue


The first definitive maps showed footpaths, bridleways, and tracks with vehicular rights used mainly by walkers and horse riders.  Often, this right to use vehicles was established when all vehicles were horse-drawn.  The confusing definition of these ‘Roads used as Public Paths’ (RUPPs) led to more than 60 years of legal dispute.  More recent laws have rendered the term RUPP obsolete—such ways are now restricted byways; and the recording on definitive maps of BOATs on the basis of historical evidence of vehicular use is now largely ruled out.  However, BOATs already on the map are still open to all kinds of traffic unless a TRO is in place.

For further information contact The Policy Team.

Links to additional information:

Regulating the use of motor vehicles on public rights of way and off road: A guide for Local Authorities, Police and Community Safety Partnerships (December 2005)


Part 6 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and Restricted Byways: A guide for local authorities, enforcement agencies, rights of way users and practitioners


Updated 6 November 2015