To ride or not to ride in a lockdown? The legal position…

To ride or not to ride in a lockdown? The legal position…

What are we to make of the muddle of riding a motorcycle in lockdown? My view is based as an English practitioner and concerning English Law.

Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish law is another column – Just picking your way through the English legislation is grim enough…

We have the Home Secretary telling us (followed by a rapid rebuttal) that recreation is allowed under the January 2021 lockdown. It isn’t. Throw into the mix entirely-innocent walkers having a cup of tea deigned a picnic by overlyzealous police officers, fined and then un-fined by Derbyshire’s finest and the noises coming out of officialdom are, charitably, inconsistent.

Are you confused? You are not alone. The basic distinction you must make (and which regrettably appears to have bypassed some English police forces) is between law – contained within regulations – and advice. There is some overlap because there is a test of reasonableness implied in the regulations and the government advice must be a starting point for what is reasonable but that is the only meaningful overlap.

Bear in mind I am giving you one lawyer’s interpretation of the regulations, and the link to the current (as I write in late January) legislation is footnoted* but here is the takeaway.

Those things that you are allowed to do, such as shopping, to collect food or drink or medical appointments, can all be done by motorcycle. So, get your two-wheeled fix by picking up your prescription or your curry. However, can you go for a leisure ride?

In my opinion, the answer is no. I can and do use my motorcycle for work travel, shopping (I have an adventure bike with luggage) or picking up a takeaway for my 12-mile round trip motorcycle fix.

However, before you pick up a curry from Leicester to return to enjoy in your home in Exeter, the law has a test of “reasonable necessity” and the starting point on the regulations can certainly be read to indicate that it is for you to show your reason for being out of your home is both reasonable and necessary.

Picking up a prescription is necessary. Riding past 40-odd chemists because you wanted to stretch the legs on your motorcycle is not “reasonably necessary”.

There has been some forum and social-media chatter as to whether the use of a motorcycle constitutes exercise. I could certainly make out an argument that it is. What I could not do is offer any attractive odds as to a constable being persuaded. In my opinion, most courts, were you to appeal a fine, would interpret the law purposively and the purpose of the law is to keep people close to their homes to stop a dangerous virus being carried.

There is some peer-reviewed evidence that motorcycling has a positive impact on mental health and cognition (see page 14) but I think it would be stretching a point to call it exercise. I would cheerfully accept a brief fee for arguing that motorcycling constituted exercise but my honest view is that you would be on a very sticky legal wicket.

For the same reason, I have also stopped the rather more physically demanding pastime of green-lane riding which has a rather stronger evidential base that it is exercise but again. It is a matter of interpretation.

When outdoor recreation is allowed again, then get onto your bikes with legal clarity as motorcycling is most definitely recreation but the current law says exercise. Tier regulations used the term recreation; the current rules don’t.

Andrew Dalton

RiDE Magazine April 2021

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Posted by Andrew Dalton. Last modified: February 12, 2021 at 2:35 pm

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focused on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.
Disclaimer: The legal advice and statements contained within this/these articles is correct at the time of printing. If you are seeking legal advice after a motorbike accident please contact us to speak directly with one of our lawyers.
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Alex
Alex
1 month ago

Does that mean we can now ride from 8th of March? The message is still confusing, because technically recreation is now allowed, altough, on the other hand, they still say stay at home, go out for essentials only.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
Reply to  Alex
1 month ago

Hi Alex – in my opinion the regulations are deliberately sloppily written. I read law for a living. I see Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments ever day. The Parliamentary draftsmen are highly skilled lawyers who can make the law as clear or as loose as they like. That is their core skill and they are damned good at it. There are a couple of exceptions – The Animals Act is a mess but most laws are well drafted, and clear. The current rules which my friend and business partner Andrew Prendergast analyses above shows the sloppiness of the drafting. With my lawyer’s head on – and I qualified in 1993 – I can say the law allows you to make essential journeys, as you could prior to 8.3.21 but now you have an added reason which is recreation which does not require reasonable necessity. The guidance which is not law says you should stay local for recreation which is good advice but not law. If the purpose of your journey is recreation then there is no time or distance limit. Recreation is very widely interpreted – in fact there is no meaningful legal definition as the Courts in considering recreation (usually linked to National Parks legislation) have been very slow to define what is recreation. In fact, can there be a legal definition of a pastime you carry out for your own enjoyment? Golf strikes me as torture. Bumping about over rocks on a dirt bike is pretty weird way to have my recreation, but that is what I like to do. Where I could see some legal dancing on the head of a pin is where you combine necessity (which has reasonable built into the definition) with recreation. Recreation is not objectively necessary. So if you chose to ride from Milton Keynes to go to a Chemist in Swansea, it would not be reasonably necessary and would put you in breach of the current rules.If you chose, for recreation, to make exactly the same journey it would, in my opinion, be lawful. I have nothing but sympathy for the Police in trying to enforce these rules. The police in the Republic of Ireland (where I am also a solicitor – but non practicing) have much clearer rules. If you are 5km away from your home, unless you have one of the statutory exceptions, the Gards will lighten your wallet. Tough. Sure. Easy to understand and enforce? A lot easier than the English rules. I am happier to be in the more relaxed English rules and I will be riding for leisure starting this Saturday but I will be staying fairly local and obeying the rules. In the Republic, my bike would be staying in the garage.

Andrew Dalton – Senior Partner White Dalton Motorcycle Solicitors.

dave
dave
2 months ago

Many thanks Andrew for clear words. Looking forward to what happens on the 8th March now.

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