Vehicles and rights of way

What to expect

Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs)

BOATs are the only form of public right of way where the public may drive vehicles of any description (this includes horse-drawn carriages). BOATs are open to all types of user, but may not be suitable for certain types of traffic. They will in most cases not have a tarmac surface. Byways will be signed from their start point with a 'Public Byway' sign, and along the way with red waymarking arrows.

Footpaths and bridleways

There is no public right of way for any vehicles on a footpath or bridleway (except pedal cyclists, who may use a bridleway). Landowners and occupiers may have private rights for their vehicles, which run in conjunction with a footpath or bridleway.

Who is responsible?

The surface of a BOAT is our responsibility and we are required to keep it in a suitable condition for horse riders and walkers only (please refer to path surface page). We may impose Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) on some byways and this may prohibit certain classes of use (for example motor vehicles) which will be clearly signed with standard road signs. Our policy for making TROs as well as a list of BOATs and information on any existing restrictions can be downloaded at the bottom of this page or requested from the Countryside Access Team. More information will soon be available on our TRO fact sheet.

Driving on byways

Driving on a byway may be tough going for some vehicles but it is not 'off road'. Anyone driving on a byway must comply with the Road Traffic Act (for example display a number plate, have road tax, third party insurance, and a driving licence correct for the type of vehicle). Drivers must obey the rules of the road, giving way to pedestrians and horse riders.

Many byways are not suitable for normal vehicles and users are advised to check the conditions before starting driving. Damaging the surface of a byway, even when you are entitled to use it, may be an offence. Many byways are historic and include important landscape features, such as boundary banks. Driving off the byway onto these may cause irreparable damage. Check you know where you are going, carry an up to date Ordnance Survey map and know the limitations of your vehicle and driving skills.

For landowners

Landowners and occupiers using their vehicles on rights of way under their private rights are responsible for the wear and tear caused by their vehicles. Landowners wishing to carry out repairs should first read our Path Surface fact sheet.

Landowners unsure whether they have private rights should seek the advice from a legal advisor or solicitor; we do not hold records of private rights. Driving on a footpath or bridleway without legal authority is an offence.

Surrey County Council's policy on making Traffic Regulation Orders on byways open to all traffic

  1. Traffic Regulation Orders can be made by the County Council under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The County Council considers making Traffic Regulation Orders only as a last resort in line with Government advice set out in "Making the Best of Byways".
  2. The County Council has a countywide assessment of all Byways Open to All Traffic in Surrey. This considers their current condition, spending on maintenance repair work within the last 10 years and evidence of vehicle related unlawful activity on or adjacent to the byway. The assessment indicates the principal problem is erosion caused by vehicles, which then presents difficulties and dangers to non-motor users.
  3. The County Council's policy is:
    • that Traffic Regulation Orders be used pro-actively where a countywide assessment indicates a Byway Open to All Traffic is in poor condition, in need of significant repair and it is considered necessary to restrict traffic, coupled with programmes of repair as resources permit.
    • that where a countywide assessment indicates a Byway Open to All Traffic is in reasonable condition a Traffic Regulation Order be only made on grounds of significant danger to users of the route, or to prevent significant damage to the route.

Surrey County Council: Approved January 2009

What happens next?

If you want to report an instance of dangerous driving, illegal use of a footpath or bridleway by vehicles, or speeding these – which are likely to be Road Traffic offences - should be reported to the police in the first instance.

Damage to the surface of a path or way is more likely to be a matter for us as we are the highway authority. Report it online to the Countryside Access Officer. In either case as much detail about the incident as possible is appreciated.

Use our online form if you need to report a problem. You can also make an enquiry about a rights of way issue.

Files available to download