Our specialist motoring solicitor Andrew Prendergast is back to guide you through motorcycle legal advice, trials and insurance troubles.
As of March 8, England is still in a national lockdown, and different tiers have not come back into force in England. Don’t get muddled up. It’s easy to do. There has been a raft of law changes that happened throughout the last year so it would be easy to get confused and caught out.
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Can I ride my motorbike?
As of March 8, you still can’t leave your house and ride your motorbike unless an “exception” applies. The biggest change in the law for most bikers is the “exception” that you are now legally permitted:
“to visit a public outdoor place for the purposes of open air recreation”:
(aa) one or more members of their household or their linked household, or
(bb) where open air recreation is being taken as part of providing informal childcare for a child aged 13 or under, one or more members of their linked childcare household, or
(iii) with one other person who is not a member of their household, their linked household, or their linked childcare household,and sub-paragraph (3) applies in determining whether a person is complying with the limits in this paragraph;]”
“Open air recreation” is not defined. So, in my view, motorbiking is “open air recreation.”
A public outdoor place is defined as:
“(4) A place is a public outdoor place for the purposes of this paragraph if it is a public outdoor place other than a fairground or funfair and—
(a) no payment is required by any member of the public to access that place, or
(b) the place falls within one of the following categories—
F14(i). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(ii) botanical gardens,
(iii) gardens or grounds of a castle, stately home, historic house or other heritage site,
[F15(iv) outdoor attractions at sculpture parks,
The full list of exceptions can be found here.
Andrew Prendergast: My opinion
The Government’s online document titled “Guidance National lockdown: Stay at Home” states the following:
“If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay in your local area – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work.”
However, despite the guidance saying, “stay in your local area” there is nothing in the actual law that I have seen that says I cannot ride to a “public outdoor place.” Therefore, for example, if I want to get on my motorbike, ride to a stately home and meet my mate there, and go for a walk in their gardens open to the public, I can legally do that in my view.
I am also of the opinion that the road running past my house is also a “public outdoor place”. So legally my mate could meet me there on his motorbike and we could ride off to the Cotswolds to another “public outdoor place” together.
However, what I can’t do in my opinion, is have two mates turn up outside my house, meet them there, and then all head off to the Costwolds. In simple terms, three (or more including pillions) is a crowd.
The Law is new and untested
I need to stress this is my legal opinion based on law that is new. Further, that law has had no chance to be scrutinised by the Courts. As such, I accept there are always legal arguments to be had based on different legal interpretations.
On February 22, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s “roadmap” to ease lockdown restrictions in England. This has been online for some time. However, the actual law was not published until a few days ago which then came into force on Monday, March 8.
You will always find a story about a policeman who made a wrongful arrest etc – after all that makes headlines. In the last year, their job has been even more difficult because the law has changed every few weeks/months and there have been well publicised cases of them getting it wrong. However, if you get stopped, my advice is stay calm and don’t kick off. Polite, reasonable behaviour usually results in polite, reasonable behaviour in return.
The Government publishes Guidance regarding this. This can be found here.
It’s important to remember that the Guidance isn’t law. However, like the Highway Code, many of the rules in the Guidance are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence.
If you want to read the actual law, you can find it here.
List of all exceptions
I advise you check the exceptions carefully to see how they apply to your particular situation. As stated above, these can be found here.
However, broadly speaking, you can leave your house and ride your motorbike: –
- To buy goods or obtain services from certain businesses for yourself “or for those in the same household…or vulnerable persons…or persons who have a disability…or persons in the same household as a vulnerable person…or a person who has a disability.”
- To obtain money from or deposit money with certain businesses.
- To take exercise outside“(i)alone,
(aa)one or more members of their household, their linked household, or
(bb)where exercise is being taken as part of providing informal childcare for a child aged 13 or under, one or more members of their linked childcare household, or
(iii)in a public outdoor place, with one other person who is not a member of their household, their linked household or their linked childcare household,and sub-paragraph (3) applies in determining whether a person is complying with the limits in this [F5paragraph];”
- To visit a public outdoor place for the purposes of open air recreation (see above for my opinion on this)
- To attend a place of worship
- To undertake certain activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property.
- To visit a member of a household which is a linked household as specified.
- To collect food, drink or other goods which have been ordered from certain businesses, or to access goods or services which are provided by certain businesses.
- To attend a library to collect any item ordered in a way permitted.
- To visit a waste disposal or recycling centre.
- To undertake work, voluntary services, education and training etc. as specified.
- To undertake certain activities in connection with being an elite athlete.
- For medical needs as specified i.e. to get a vaccine, give blood etc.
- For support and respite as specified.
- For a death bed visit as specified.
- For funerals as specified.
- For marriages and civil partnerships as specified.
- For reasons relating to children as specified.
- For reasons relating to animal welfare as specified.
- Returning home from a holiday that started pre the law change.
- For prison and immigration detention visits as specified.
- For voting as specified.
- For permitted outdoor sports gathering as specified.
- To move in and out of student and vacation households as specified.
- For picketing as specified.
- For the nomination of candidates or petitioning for a referendum as specified.
- For campaigning as specified.
- For observing an election or referendum as specified.
We have all heard the phrase used by the police: –
“You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
I mention the above as I see lots of “experts” on social media saying you can get away with being out of your house if you just tell them you are exercising. If you say that to the police, expect it to be noted if they are looking to prosecute you.
With regards to “exercise” there is an argument that riding a motorbike could be viewed as exercise. Whilst trail riding (see below) could be viewed as exercise, I’m of the view that in the current climate, a Court may be very slow to accept riding a motorbike on a tarmac road would be “exercise”, even after the law change on the 08/03/21. Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to raise a defence, but you would likely have to spend some hard-earned money on legal representation, expert evidence and time in Court if it went to trial.
As such, if you get stopped by the police, be clear as to why you are out. For example, it does not have to be for exercise. Check the exceptions (see above). For example, an “exception” can now be to visit a public outdoor place for the purposes of open air recreation. Don’t lie and get caught out.
Trail riding on a motorbike
Once again, exercise isn’t defined in the updated law. Having done a lot of trail riding over the years, I know it can raise the heart rate and you can get a sweat on.
When considering the new law, I am of the opinion you can now travel “to visit a public outdoor place for the purposes of open air recreation”. As such, I am of the opinion I can load my trail motorbike into my van, drive to a “public outdoor place” park, unload my motorbike and then head out on the green lanes for some “exercise” and/or “open air recreation.” Or, I can just go ride my trail bike to the trails.
However, in my opinion, even after the law change on the 08/03/21, I can only do this with one other person. Therefore, if I met up with two other mates in the Peak District and all rode together, it would be illegal in my view. Again, three (or more) is a crowd.
Law and morals
To state the obvious, the law and an individual’s morals are different things. I’m not here to preach, but simply lay out the updated law and focus on whether you can ride your motorbike or not. As the dreaded COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, so too does the law in an attempt to get a grip of the pandemic.
We all have a role to play in this pandemic but I’m not going to preach about what anyone should do. I for one will continue to ride my motorbike for work and to go shopping etc. I will now be arranging to ride and meet a friend at a public outdoor place for a walk and a chin wag.