It’s highly likely that the mainstream media will soon come down hard on Robert Goodwill’s comments that police should use sensitivity and discretion instead of automatically fining cyclists who choose to ride on the footway for safety reasons. The roads minister was reiterating the advice given to police in 1999 by former Home Office minister Paulk Boeteng.
However, the mainstream media may flag this up as a "minister for cycling to allow cyclists to ride on pavements" story. The coverage has already started and shock-jocks across the nation are whetting their whistles over a subject they know gets call-in guests extremely riled (guests who complain about cyclists on the pavement, but not motorists who commit the same 1835 offence by parking on the pavement).
Goodwill made his comments in a letter to cycle campaigner Donnachadh McCarthy of the pressure group Stop Killing Cyclists.
Goodwill said: “Thank you for bringing the issue of cycling on the pavement around dangerous junctions…to my attention. I agree that the police should be using discretion in enforcing this law and would support Paul Boateng’s original guidance."
That guidance – contained on this Cyclists and the law article – was issued in 1999 in order to allay fears that cyclists riding on footways for their own safety would be indiscriminately fined by police officers. Then Home Office minister Paul Boeteng said: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road."
He added: "Sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”
The primary legislation which makes cycling on a footway an offence is section 72 of the 1835 Highways Act, this provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if he “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 carriage of any description upon any such footpath or causeway.”
Bikehub.co.uk’s ‘Cycling and the law’ says:
Section 85 of the Local Government Act 1888 extended the definition of “carriage” to include “bicycles, tricycles, velocipedes and other similar machines.”
The object of Section 72 Highways Act 1835 was intended not to protect all footpaths, but only footpaths or causeways by the side of a road, and that this is still the case has been ruled in the high court. The legislation makes no exceptions for small wheeled or children’s cycles, so even a child riding on a footway is breaking the law. However, if they are under the age of criminal responsibility they cannot, of course, face prosecution.