Can I ride my motorbike on a right of way or take it off road?

A Police sign warning that unauthorised motor vehicle use could lead to prosecution and vehicle seizure

Access to land by any motorised vehicle is limited and, in the majority of cases, it’s illegal.

Definition of a motor vehicle #

The term ‘motor vehicle’ is defined in section 185(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and section 136(1) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as “a mechanically propelled vehicle, intended or adapted for use on roads”.

Obviously, the definition includes, cars, motorbikes, 4x4s and lorries, but it is up to the courts to interpret whether any particular vehicle falls within the definition and cases have shown electric scooters, go-peds and Segways all to fall within the definition.  It would, therefore, be fair to assume all battery-powered vehicles including mini motorbikes and powered skateboards fall within the definition.

What about electric bicycles? #

If an electric bike falls within the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle definition as set out in the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle Regulations 1983 , it is treated as a normal pedal bicycle and is not considered a motor vehicle.  However, you do have to be 14 years old to use one on the public road!  You can find out more about electric bikes over at friends Cycling UK.

But, can I take my motorbike off road? #

No.  Not unless you have the express permission of the owner of the land you want to use.

Doesn’t the right of access to land let me take my motorbike off road? #

The right of access to land does not apply to motorised vehicles, with one exception.

Part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act specifically excludes use by motor vehicles, with the exception of ‘a vehicle which has been constructed or adapted for use by a person who has a disability and which is being used by such a person’. In these circumstances, a motorised vehicle can be used legally off-road.

Can I use my motorbike on a right of way? #

Yes, but only if the right of way you want to use has vehicular rights.  Unfortunately, very few rights of way in Scotland have vehicular rights.  Most that do are very short, averaging less than 1 mile.

How a right of way can be used is determined by its historic use over the past 20 years.  If a route has only been used by walkers, then it is only available to pedestrians, if it has also been used by horses, it can be used by horses and pedestrians.  The complicating factor for motor vehicles is that since 1930 it has been illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any land that is not a road.  To show a route has vehicular rights it would need to be shown that a route had been used for 40 years prior to 1930.

The Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 reduced the 40 years of proof of use to 20 years, but only to use of a route after this Act came into effect.

Surely this doesn’t apply to children’s toys and vehicles? #

It does.  There is no exemption for vehicles designed for off-road use and young people are not exempt.

What happens if I ignore all this? #

If you choose to use a motor vehicle off-road where you do not have the right to do so, you are committing a criminal offence under section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Police Scotland have the power to seize your motor vehicle if it causing or likely to cause distress or annoyance to members of the public. 

Are there any organisations for countryside motor vehicular users? #

Yes there are. LARA – The Motoring Organisations’ Land Access and Recreation Association is an umbrella body for the leading national associations in motor sport and recreation that promotes and advocates responsible and sustainable motor sport and recreation, and offers advice and training on all aspects of land use. The Green Lane Association is dedicated to protecting the heritage of vehicular rights of way for the benefit of all users through education, physical works, and legal action. They also have a Code of Conduct for off-road vehicular users.

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