Click here to see latest events

What is a road?

It might sound a simple question, but there is sometimes confusion over what constitutes a “road” as defined by the Road Traffic Act 1988. This is important because the legislation dictates that third party motor insurance has to be in force in respect of the use of vehicles on a “road or a public place”. This is not as straightforward as it may seem.

The Road Traffic Act sets down that a ‘road’ means ‘any highway and any other road to which the public have access and includes bridges over which a road passes’. There are a number of elements within this definition.

Vehicle security barrier


A road has been held in case law to include pavements and boundary grass verges.


A highway is:

  • Anywhere that members of the public are afforded a right of way on foot, riding, accompanied by a beast of burden or with vehicles or cattle.
  • Bridleways, footpaths and carriageways which are open to the public.
  • Covered by the Road Traffic Act even where it is temporarily closed off.


If any part of a vehicle is on a road, even where it is partly or mostly on some other private land, the vehicle is treated as being on a road.


Access to the Public

To fall within the Road Traffic Act the road must be one to which the public have access. Whether or not the public have access to a road is a question of fact. If a member of the public has to overcome some form of physical barrier or act in defiance of a prohibition then that will not be considered a road to which the public have access.


A sign on a private road which stated that ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ was held to be a sufficient prohibition to members of the public to exclude the location from the Road Traffic Act definition


A car park is not a road. However, it is a “public place” and so otherwise included.


Public Place

If people can gain access to a location in their capacity as members of the public, rather than as a person with some form of permission to enter, it is a public place. Examples are:

  • Multi storey car parks
  • hospital car parks
  • pub car parks


A yard at commercial premises to which the public does not have access does not constitute a public place. This means that, for example, a fork lift truck being driven in a builder’s yard does not require motor insurance. However, the minute that same fork lift truck is driven on a road to which the public has access, or in some other public place, motor insurance is required. This means that any item of plant, whether or not it is registered for road use, needs to be insured under a motor policy if it is ever driven in a place accessed by the general public.

And on a final note…

Driving Licences

Legislation requires that anyone driving a vehicle on a road or public place has a valid licence to drive that vehicle. This is also a requirement for motor insurance. If a driver does not have the requisite licence to drive the vehicle, the insurance is invalidated. Accordingly, companies should check that anyone who drives one of their vehicles has a current driving licence appropriate for the vehicle. Remember that this also applies to items of plant, such as fork lift trucks, which may be driven on a road BEV  new pic head shotor in a public place. It is not enough that a driver is “competent” to drive the forklift truck, usually demonstrated by their FLT ticket or certificate; the driver will also need a valid motor driving licence to drive the vehicle in question.


Insurance can be complicated! If you require any advice regarding vehicle insurance or assistance with checking driving licences we are here to help. Please get in touch with your usual contact at ProAktive on 01302 341 344.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *