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Quirky 1835 law means bicycles can’t be ridden on pavements but police tend not to nab cars which park on pavements

It’s ironic, but the law that states cyclists shouldn’t ride on pavements is the same law that could be used to prevent motorists from parking on pavements. Which is the greater social ill? If you believe vitriolic letters in local and national newspapers you would think it’s the former. Parking on infrastructure meant for pedestrians, two wheels or more over the kerb, is now so endemic it’s perceived to be perfectly normal and therefore correct.

Those who rant at cyclists for pavement riding tend not to rant at motorists committing the exact some offence. The offence was introduced in 1835. While all other parts of the 1835 Highway Act have been either amended or repealed, clause 72 remains in force. It’s a juicy one:

“If any person shall wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot passengers; or shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway; or shall tether any horse, ass, mule, swine, or cattle, on any highway, so as to suffer or permit the tethered animal to be thereon.”

The key phrase is “carriage of any description”. That is a cover-all that is still in force. Motor cars were classed as carriages in the 1903 Motor Car Act; bicycles were so classified in 1888. The operators of bicycles and cars have the same road rights, that is, being able to pass and repass over the public highway. Stopping for any length of time is a grey area, with a mishmash of laws, and parking of a carriage is also caught up in a swirl of conflicting legislation.

However, clause 72 of the 1835 Highway Act is clear: carriages must not “ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road.”

The 1835 act didn’t mention bicycles (pedal propelled bikes weren’t developed until the late 1860s) and so, at first, bicycles had no legal status, no legal right to be on either roads or footpaths. Since its foundation in 1878, the Cyclists’ Touring Club has fought tooth and nail to secure highway rights for cyclists.

The CTC was founded to:

“secure a fair and equitable administration of Justice as regards the right of bicyclists to the public roads. To watch the course of any legislative proposals in Parliament or elsewhere affecting the interests of the bicycling public, and to make such representations on the subject as the occasion may demand.”

The council of the CTC wanted cyclists to be seen as responsible citizens and it invoked the “golden rule”, the do-unto-others prescription:

“[We] specially urge on every individual rider the desirability of extending to all that courtesy which be would have shown to himself. The present prejudice against bicycling has been partly caused (and cannot but be fostered and increased) by a disregard to the feelings of other passengers on the road; and although the right of the bicyclist to the free use of the public highway should be at all times maintained, any needless altercation should be studiously avoided.”

Cyclists were the newest user of the public highway and could easily be banned, nationally as well as locally.

In 1878, the year when the CTC was founded, the case of Taylor v. Goodwin was pivotal. Mr. Justice Mellor and Mr. Justice Lush, sitting in banco in the Queen’s Bench Division, held that bicyclists were liable to the pains and penalties imposed by the 1835 Highway Act.

The case had been brought against a Mr Taylor who had been charged for “riding furiously” down Muswell Hill in London, knocking down a pedestrian in the process. His defence argued that as a bicycle wasn’t defined as a carriage in the 1835 Act there was no case to answer. The plea was disregarded and Taylor was fined. The case was appealed and justices Mellor and Lush ruled that bicycles were henceforth to be considered carriages under the law.

This was bad for Taylor, good for cyclists in general. It meant bicycles, for the first time, had a legal status. Described as carriages, they had full legal rights to pass and repass along highways (and highways are not just ‘roads’, they’re carriageways, footpaths, bridleways, everything).

The legal definition of bicycles as legitimate highway users was further strengthened in 1888. The Local Government Bill of this year created County Councils. The Cyclists’ Touring Club formed a committee to oversee the progress of this bill through Parliament. It was feared that if County Councils were given powers to create their own bye-laws such bye-laws would be used to prohibit bicycles. The CTC had political clout: it asked one of its members – who just so happened to be an MP – to lodge an amendment to the Bill. Sir John Donnington “won a brilliant victory for the Club,” wrote James Lightwood, the author of a 1928 history of the CTC.

When the Act – with the critical amendment – was duly passed, a writer in the Law Journal said the Local Government Act of 1888 was the “Magna Carta de Bicyclis.”

Lightwood said:

“As a result there disappeared…every enactment which gave to Courts of Sessions, Municipal Corporations and similar bodies in England and Wales power to resist and hamper the movements of cyclists as they might think fit. The new order of things established once and for all the status of the cycle.”


The status of a bicycle as a “carriage” is an important legal one but the terminology did not follow through to popular use, as shown by the words of Henry Dacre’s music hall song Daisy Bell which emphasises that carriages and bicycles are two different things:

It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle made for two.

Nevertheless, the legal definition of bicycles as carriages allowed cycling to prosper. Without a clearly defined and nationwide legal status, it would have been easier for localities to ban the use of bicycles.

Section 72 Highways Act 1835 is used in the current Highway Code. Rule 145 states:

“You MUST NOT drive on or over a pavement, footpath or bridleway except to gain lawful access to property, or in the case of an emergency.”

Since January 1999 a fixed penalty notice can be issued with the offender given a ticket with fine and points attached unless they appeal in which case it goes to court.

This regulation tends not to be used, especially if a police officer doesn’t see the driver actually driving on to the pavement. A police officer may have “reasonable grounds” to believe the motorist drove on the pavement – it would be up to the courts to decide whether a driver was telling the truth should he claim his car was placed on the pavement with the use of a crane. However, unlike for a speeding offence a police officer has no power, in relation to driving on the pavement, to insist that the keeper of a vehicle tells of who was driving at any particular time. This particular quirk of the law could be remedied by politicians in an instant, but MPs – despite many promises – have over the years repeatedly failed to give the police this simple expedient. For this and other reasons the police generally don’t enforce this particular law and tend to refer complainants to local authority parking enforcement officers, who have few mechanisms in which to tackle the problem.

Now, back to that crane. If there was one knocking around the police officer should use it to lift cars off the pavement, ship them off to the pound and charge motorists for the process. Then perhaps our pavements could be freed of private property obstructing the public highway. But don’t stand still: highways, such as pavements, are there for passage, to be used to pass and repass, and obstruction of the highway is an offence. An offence only ever rarely enforced, of course, which is why motorists feel free to dump their motor vehicles on the carriageway.

25 thoughts on “Quirky 1835 law means bicycles can’t be ridden on pavements but police tend not to nab cars which park on pavements

  1. Andrea Casalotti / Reply December 12, 2012 at 11:49 am

    My grandfather, in his seventies, used to carry a sharp screwdriver whenever he walked the dog, and leave scratches on cars parked on the pavement.

    When authorities refuse to do their job, it is just that citizens administer justice, in a proportionate fashion.

    • carltonreid / Reply December 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      This happens, and would be construed by beaks as the greater offence, of course. Damage to property always is. However, it would be best for an MP to champion tidying up this tiny blot on the law of the land and the MP who succeeded could thereafter claim to have had a real and lasting positive impact on peoples’ lives.

      • Dave H / Reply December 13, 2012 at 4:46 am

        Interesting test there actually. I think that, provided that you have taken reasonable steps to mitigate any damage so caused, you may walk over a vehicle or other object obstructing your passage along the footway, and Police equally make little effort to find remedy for those who lose a wing mirror through poor/obstructive parking on the carriageway. LCC posed a brilliant picture in the 1980’s of a VW Golf parked on Westminster Bridge with the white line of the mandatory cycle lane running over the car and a cyclist riding down the front windscreen.

        Perhaps a theme for Danny M to run with – “Riding the bike lane” – following through cycle lanes and riding over the various daft obstructions placed on them, and the cars that park across or along them. Than post pictures nearby with ‘Watch out Danny’s about’ and warnings about parking in bike lanes

  2. Dave H / Reply December 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    You might add that a photograph of a car speeding, or infringing many Traffic Regulation Orders in place (for Traffic Signals, Restricted (Bus lanes etc) or No Entry to sections of the carriageway) can be used to issue a fixed penalty notice and points endorsements where applicable to the registered keeper, as can apply also to parking fines. Yet this anomaly persists for a law which clearly needs to be enforced.

    One little detail whcih has emerged from FPN’s linked to failure to stop at a stop signal (traffic lights) – how to handle a cyclist being fined for an endorsable offence where the cyclist does not have a driving licence, especially if the system demands presentation of that driving licence to complete the processing of the payment #allfallsapart

    • PedestrianLiberation / Reply December 12, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      I believe that the police are not empowered to require the keeper of a vehicle to say who parked it on a pavement in the way that they are legally required to do so if the vehicle is seen speeding. I may however be wrong on this. If anyone knows better then please leave a comment on the pedestrianliberation blog.

      • Dave H / Reply December 13, 2012 at 4:49 am

        Odd anomaly than, that they can trace the registered keeper and chase them for parking fines, and when you hire a car you sign to be the responsible user for this, and traffic offences.

    • carltonreid / Reply December 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      Dave, you have now added it… I’ve always appreciated your advice and hard work on this subject. A fellow traveller – who perhaps you know? – is Alan Kind of the Byways and Bridleways Trust and who is most to blame for my knowledge of this particular quirk in the law.

  3. @telent_net / Reply October 24, 2013 at 9:48 am

    > But don’t stand still: highways, such as pavements, are there for
    passage, to be used to pass and repass, and obstruction of the highway
    is an offence

    It is worth reading the judgement of Irvine in the HoL, in the case of DPP vs Jones and Another:

    ” I do not, therefore, accept that, to be lawful, activities on the
    highway must fall within a rubric incidental or ancillary to the
    exercise of the right of passage. The meaning of Lord Esher’s judgment
    in Harrison, at pp. 146-147 is clear: it is not that a person may
    use the highway only for passage and repassage and acts incidental or
    ancillary thereto; it is that any “reasonable and usual” mode of using
    the highway is lawful, provided it is not inconsistent with the general
    public’s right of passage.”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199899/ldjudgmt/jd990304/jones02.htm – nothing wrong with standing still if you’re not getting in the way

    • carltonreid / Reply October 24, 2013 at 10:12 am

      True. But ‘standing still’ not quite cut and dried. Obstruction is a fluid thing. Shops are often prosecuted for having signs and other obstructions on the highway (with highway being wall to wall, building to building, not just the ‘carriageway’).
      Traffic Regulation Orders and local bylaws can be used to modify highway rights but not extinguish them. Legal maxim: once a highway, always a highway. So, local authorities can block roads with bollards to make cycle-friendly filtered permeability, and can make pedestrianised areas where cafes can lay out tables and chairs.
      Sort of depends on status of the road, and this can change through time. ‘Main roads’, for instance, are deemed to be very much for passing and repassing only. Some of these roads even have red double lines to stress the ‘no stopping/blocking’ usage.
      But main roads can sometimes become minor ones, via deliberate design. For instance, in my home city of Newcastle, Northumberland Street is now a pedestrian-only thoroughfare but just a few short years ago is was the A1 and before that part of the famous Great North Road.
      I’d be confident I wouldn’t get nicked for ‘standing still’ on Northumberland Street but I wouldn’t have the same confidence if I was standing still with a number of others, for a length of time.

  4. Mr B J Mann / Reply November 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Sorry, but isn’t there some “confusion” here?

    “Those who rant at cyclists for pavement riding tend not to rant at motorists committing the exact some offence. The offence was introduced in 1835. While all other parts of the 1835 Highway Act have been either amended or repealed, clause 72 remains in force. It’s a juicy one:”

    “If any person shall wilfully….. drive any….. carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway…..”

    Are you saying that cars aren’t “carriages”? Or weren’t in 1835?

    Surely the term “horeseless carriage”, along with the four wheels, or two on a shared axle, are a bit of a giveaway?

    It would be a bit like saying a steamer isn’t a ship because it’s sail-less. It might not be a sailing ship, but it’s still a ship.

    And a horseless carriage might not be drawn by a horse, but it’s still a carriage.

    You know, as in CAR-riageway!

    Incidentally, the word car is a variant of the ancient word ChARiot.

    In fact, in general, it’s the “passenger compartment” of a chariot.

    And in particular a processional or war chariot.

    And it’s got a history stretching back four millenia.

    But, clearly, “a mishmash of laws, and parking of a carriage is also caught up in a swirl of conflicting legislation” has got you totally muddled up.

    While bicycles where accredited with honorary carriage status in 1935 (and cars merely recognised as being carriages when they started codifying advances in technology) none of what you have written actually has anything to do with cars parking on pavements.

    If you actually did some proper research (and, no, I won’t go through it all again) while HGVs (as they were) are banned from parking on pavements, parking cars on pavements is only illegal in two towns in general, and on specific specified stretches of pavement identified in specific by-laws in other towns, and cars have a specific right to drive on pavements to access parking by the “mishmash of laws, and parking of a carriage is also caught up in a swirl of conflicting legislation”.

    In fact, you could probably gather as much from the way councils actually mark out car parking bays on, or half on, pavements in many areas.

    But I suspect you actually knew that all along.

    This kind of “research” and “reasoning” is akin to “arguing” that everybody has an equal right to use the roads, everybody pays for them (through their Council Tax perhaps?!?!?!), equally.

    And there is no such thing as “Road Tax” and it isn’t hypothecated to the roads anyway.

    But “Road Tax” doesn’t cover the costs of the roads.

    So motorists don’t pay their way and don’t have a right to use the roads??!?!

    But motorists don’t pay their fair share for them!!!!!!!!

    [Hint to anyone confused by that:

    1) Motorists pay around £50 BILLION in EXTRA ADDITIONAL Road RELATED Tax ON TOP of their ORDINARY CITIZENS taxes EACH and EVERY year.

    2) “Road Tax” was never scrapped, it was renamed to disguise the fact the government had been robbing the fund for other purposes.

    3) “Road Tax” is only one of many Road RELATED Taxes motorists pay.

    4) Paying “Road Tax” for one vehicle doesn’t cover any other vehicles even if the taxed vehicle isn’t being used, or even parked, on the road at the time.

    5) “Road Tax” is NOT based on emissions, you can drive an extremely powerful, thirsty and dirty car (or lawnmower, or tractor, or whatever) without paying any “Road Tax”, and you can drive an extremely powerful, thirsty and dirty police van on the roads without paying “Road Tax”, all vehicles registered before the relevant date don’t pay “Road Tax” on the basis of emissions, neither do most kinds of vehicles however new they are. The fact that the rate of tax on certain ages and models of car is based on emissions doesn’t mean that “Road Tax” in general is, so emissions levels, or lack of them, doesn’t define a liability to “Road Tax”. (Incidentally, you have to buy a licence to drive a commercial horse drawn carriage on the roads, but I suppose they do have “emissions”, in fact, historical research on the levels of it is quite an eye opener!)

    6) Many people don’t pay Council Tax (some of the most misguided on this point even manage to NOT pay Council Tax in TWO places!), it only covers a fraction of council expenditure, the rest is covered by the government, and road maintenance is paid for out of capital and maintenance grants.

    7) While Road RELATED Taxes are not hypothecated, if they managed to drive motorists out of their cars, and lost the £50 BILLION pa they raise, would they carry on spending the pittance they do on the roads (and paying the 50% subsidy to public transport), and cut £50 BILLION off the NHS budget (and perhaps levy £50 BILLION in taxes on hospital beds!)?

    Or would they (have to) scrap roads expenditure, AND the 50% subsidy on public transport, and start levying £50 BILLION in extra additional taxes on public transport users and cyclists to shore up the NHS budget?

    So, clearly, in practice, the Road RELATED Taxes DO pay for the roads (as well as a whole lot more).

    Hope the above helps!

    PS Please don’t unlawfully access my email address, track down my work and home addresses, and post my details and probably commute route for cycling “fans” to peruse like the last time I tried to help you out.

    Or am I confusing you with someone else who is inordinately fond of the bicycle, and disproportionately less so of the car?

    • carltonreid / Reply November 20, 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Motor-cars weren’t carriages In 1835 because they didn’t exist in 1835. Motor-cars – such as the motorised tricycle built by long-time cyclist Karl Benz – we’re concocted from a number of pre-existing technologies (a great many from cycling) in the 1880s.
      Perhaps you ought to take your ‘road tax’ views to my other site, iPayRoadTax.com

      • Mr B J Mann / Reply November 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm

        I’m fully aware that motor cars didn’t exist then.

        My point was that other people seem to be confused about what constitutes a carriage, and what laws recognise that.

        As for my road tax “views”, as I said at the end of the post regarding the last time I tried to help you out:

        “PS Please don’t unlawfully access my email address, track down my work and home addresses, and post my details and probabl[e] commute route for cycling “fans” to peruse like the last time I tried to help you out.”

        “Or am I confusing you with someone else who is inordinately fond of the bicycle, and disproportionately less so of the car?”

  5. Mr B J Mann / Reply November 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    By the way, how’s the book going?

    If you have trouble starting it you could try something like:

    Canals were too slow, the railways were in their infancy, the roads were impassable for most of the year leading to land transport being reliant on the pack mule unless you wanted to walk, ride, or risk your goods or body to a CAR-riage on the apalling road system, but then along came the bicycle and the government realised it had to build a system of outdoor cycle tracks.

    Just for them.

    Unfortunately those evil, speeding, cyclist-crushing motorists came along and highjacked the King/Queen’s Highway system that had been built by and for the cyclists (with their cycling citizens’ Road Funding Taxes) and tried to turn it into the nation’s arteries through which they think the life blood of the economy is trying to flow.

    They actually have the cheek to think our cycle path system should be available for them to get goods and people around the whole country quickly and efficiently?!?!?!

    When we all know it’s actually there for (pedal powered) racing, recreation, and mass cycle rides to draw attention to ourselves the last Friday of every month.

    • carltonreid / Reply November 20, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      Don’t give up the day job.

      • Mr B J Mann / Reply November 21, 2013 at 3:35 pm

        I realise my ability to turn out literary fiction will never match yours.
        It was the ideas, not the artistry, I was offering.

        • carltonreid / Reply November 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm

          Good reply. Much more impactful when you keep it short. And biting.

          • Mr B J Mann / November 24, 2013 at 9:44 pm

            Of course.
            And no room for the truth and other relevant facts.

          • carltonreid / November 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm

            The book will be available in a number of formats – including free – so you be able to download it and see how every argument is backed up with verifiable facts. You may wish to ignore such facts, but facts they are.

          • Mr B J Mann / November 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm

            Including the “verifiable facts” that “roads were not built for cars”.
            I think you’ll find that even the Roman roads were built, not so much for the Legionnaires to march on, but so that their CARts, CARriages, oh, and CARs (war or processional ChARiots) could keep up without getting wrecked.
            But I can’t wait to read about your Roman bicycles!

          • Mr B J Mann / November 26, 2013 at 4:00 pm

            Or will these be “verifiable facts” in the sense that it’s a fact that motorists’ £50 BILLION in EXTRA ADDITIONAL Road RELATED Taxes aren’t hypothecated to the roads.

            When we all know that if they managed to drive motorists out of their cars and onto bikes and buses, and lost the £50 BILLION, they wouldn’t halve the NHS budget, and slap a bed tax on patients to pay for the roads:

            They’d scrap all roads expenditure, AND rail investment, AND the 50% subsidy on public transport fares, and start levying road taxes on cyclists and passengers and pedestrians to plug the non hypothecated £50 BILLION shortfall.

          • carltonreid / November 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm

            Not so. The Romans built their roads for marching soldiers. Carts were slow and cumbersome and couldn’t hope to keep up with marching soldiers.
            Supplies would trail behind.

            Chariots were for sport, in circuses ie race tracks.

  6. David S / Reply November 21, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    So cyclists were banned from the footway in 1835 when neither cars nor bicycles existed.
    Then cyclists were named in the 1888 amendment at a time when motors were had been limited to 4mph by the red flag act for the previous 23 year & then increased to 14mph 8 years later.
    So in 1888 any cyclist could safely out run any motor vehicle then mostly outrun them from 1896. Things then got tougher for the bike when cars could go at 20mph in 1903. Then no speed limits from 1931 to 1934 Eek!

    I suppose that cars were so rare pre 1945 that no one considered letting bikes back on the footway. Then they became unfashionable.

    Does your book consider the influence of cyclists on speed limits?

    • carltonreid / Reply November 21, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      Influence on speed limits in what way? From 1930s to 1970s politicians dismissed cycling as irrelevant and to be forgotten about (and this despite cyclists being a majority on the roads in the 1930s).

  7. David S / Reply November 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    I was wondering if cyclists in general & the CTC in particular contributed to the Locomotive/Red Flag debate. One might think that cyclists would feel safer, both then & now, if motor cars were were forced to proceed more slowly that cycles. But if the more influencial cyclists were turning to internal combustion that would not be the case.
    My second query is that Parliament does not appear to have consciously legislated to ban cycles from the footway. As in 1835 they didn’t exist & in 1888 the amendment seems to be intended to allow then equality on the highway.

  8. carltonreid / Reply November 24, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    “Cyclists” were also motorists when “Red Flag Act” was being debated. Cycling wasn’t proletarian or mass until late 1920s.

    Some parliamentarians worried about speeding cars in early 1900s but so many became motorists that such worries largely disappeared.

    Parliament didn’t have to legislate to keep cyclists off the footway, the 1835 Act did that in general and local bylaws picked up the slack.

    Much more detail is in the book.

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