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What is a ‘road’?

Legally, what is a ‘road’?

According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, s 192(1) a ‘road’ means any highway to which the public has access. It also includes any bridges over which a road passes.

The question to be asked, if the place is not obviously a highway, is whether the general public have actual and legal access to it.

Also, a road physically should have the character of a definable route, with ascertainable edges, and that leads from one point to another to  enable travellers to move conveniently from one point to another along that route.

Accordingly, using the above legislation, the question of whether a place is a ‘road’ is whether, factually, it can be made to fit into the above description.

A private occupation road leading to a farm, if at the time the public have access, is a road (Harrison v Hill 1932 SC 13).

However, the mere fact that residents and their visitors used an access road to a council’s housing estate does not mean the public generally have access (see Deacon v A T (a juvenile) [1976] Crim LR 135).

“It’s a matter of degree”

The question is one of degree: a mere slight degree of access by the public is not enough to satisfy the definition of “road” in s 192 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Cox v White [1976] RTR 248, [1976] Crim LR 263).

Why is it important?

The Road Traffic Act 1991 made the offences of causing death by dangerous driving, dangerous driving, careless and inconsiderate driving apply to driving on a ‘road or other public place’, where previously such offences had applied only to driving on a ‘road’.

The Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 2000, SI 2000/726, have extended to a road ‘or other public place’ the duty:

  • to provide your name and address and produce documents to a constable
  • to stop and report an accident
  • to have car insurance for your vehicle

Roads in factory premises?

A road within the fenced boundaries of a factory (being a protected place), the factory being accessible only to those with a special pass, was held not to be within this definition (O’Brien v Trafalgar Insurance Co Ltd (1945) 109 JP 107).

Roads in dock premises?

Similarly, in Buchanan v Motor Insurers’ Bureau [1955] 1 All ER 607, 119 JP 227, it was held that a road in a dock area was not a road within this definition, the general public having no access thereto as a matter of legal right or by tolerance.

Is the footpath a ‘road’?

It is irrelevant whether the way is a road within the ordinary meaning of the word; therefore, a footpath which is a highway is a road within the meaning of s 192(1) (Lang v Hindhaugh [1986] RTR 271).

The inclusion of a lane as a ‘footpath’ on a definitive map drawn up under a National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 will not in itself extinguish ancient vehicular rights (Suffolk County Council v Mason (1977) Times, 16 March)

Is the grass verge a ‘road’?

Even if the grass verge is behind a safety barrier it is a road, if it is maintained by the highway authority as part of the public highway the reason for the crash barrier is for safety reasons and not to limit the road, (Alun Griffith (Contractors) Ltd v Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency [2009] EWHC 3132 (Admin), [2010] RTR 7).

Do airports have ‘public roads’?

By virtue of s 66 of the Airports Act 1986, all road traffic laws apply to roads within aerodromes owned or managed by the British Airports Authority, even though the public does not have access to such roads.

The Secretary of State can direct that any such roads in aerodromes are subject to general traffic laws.

What about the grounds of private hotels?

In Bugge v Taylor [1941] 1 KB 198, 104 JP 467, it was held that the private forecourt of a hotel to which the public had access was a road.

Compare, however, an unpaved forecourt to a shop, unfenced from pavement but habitually crossed by customers was not a “road” in the decision of Thomas v Dando [1951] 2 KB 620, [1951] 1 All ER 1010, 115 JP 344,

Do caravan parks contain ‘public roads’?

A caravan park has been held to be a place to which the public have access and therefore are ‘roads’

The question to be asked is whether people admitted formed a ‘special class’ :

  • passing through a screening process for a reason
  • on account of some characteristic personal to themselves,

or were just members of the public being processed simply so as to make them subject to payment etc

by the landowner (DPP v Vivier [1991] 4 All ER 18, [1991] RTR 205, DC; see also R v Spence (1999) 163 JP 754, [1999] RTR 353, CA).

Also, see Dunmill v DPP [2004] EWHC 1700 (Admin) and Barrett v DPP [2009] EWHC 423, [2010] RTR 2 where there was a tarmac perimeter road around the caravan site and “grass roadways” between the caravan sites. Here it was held the defendant was not driving on a ‘road’ within the camp site (though he could have been charged with driving on an “other public place”).