After a young cyclist was recently fined for speeding while descending a hill in Richmond Park, we wondered on what basis the Royal Parks apply their speed limits to bicycles. So we decided to find out and... well, it’s complicated, but it turns out parks police might well be exceeding a reasonable interpretation of the law in fining cycists.
Speed limits on public roads apply only to motor vehicles, which are defined in law as “mechanically propelled vehicles, intended or adapted for use on roads.”
Bikes don’t count because their source of propulsion is a person, and not an engine or motor.
The situation in Richmond Park and a few other Royal Parks is therefore very unusual. Armed with a few references to the regulations and statutory instruments amending the regulations, we asked the Metropolitan Police on what basis they nab cyclists in Richmond Park.
The Met put us on to parks police and Ben Edwin emailled us to say:
The Regulations are under The Royal Parks and Open Spaces regulations 1997
The 20MPH limit was brought in by the amendment below and of course a bicycle is a vehicle for the purpose of Royal Park Regulations
Speeds at which a vehicle may be driven or ridden on a Park road
1. On a Park road in The Green Park, Hyde Park (other than the Serpentine Road), St James's Park or The Regent's Park, at a speed not exceeding 30 mph.
2. On a Park road in Bushy Park, Greenwich Park or Richmond Park, at a speed not exceeding 20 mph.
3. On the Serpentine Road in Hyde Park, and on the Park road from Kingston Gate leading to the Home Park Golf Club in Hampton Court Park, at a speed not exceeding 15 mph.
4. On a Park road (other than one mentioned in paragraphs 1, 2 or 3), at a speed not exceeding 10 mph.".
Well, that casual ‘of course’ was a red rag. Hang on, we said, doesn’t that same amendment also say this:
" "vehicle” means a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on a road."
Surely, we said, that’s the exact definition of a motor vehicle so the speed limits brought in by that amendment can’t apply to bikes?
But no, said Ben, because there’s another amendment.
The definition you refer to was revoked by The Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) (No.2) etc. Regulations 2010, which stated the following:
2. Regulations 1(2) and 5 to 8 of The Royal Parks and Other Open Spaces (Amendment) etc Regulations 2010(1) are revoked
As a result, where the Royal Parks regulations refer to a vehicle the defined legal interpretation includes bicycles.
Yes, it's an amendment to an amendment, but that's the way the law works, with newer bits replacing older bits and the whole creaking edifice keeping lawyers in jobs.
That seemed to be that. The speed limit in Richmond Park was changed from 30mph to 20mph in 2010, and parking charges were brought in. Then, when the parking charges were revoked, the definition of 'vehicle' that went with them, and that would have excluded bikes, went too, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not.
SInce then, parks police have decided, apparently on their own, that 'vehicle' includes a bike and they can bust cyclists for speeding, which must feel very nice, as they're the only force in the country that can actually issue a ticket to someone who goes a bit fast down a hill without putting themselves or anyone else in danger.
A bit miffed by all this, we went and had a deeper dig through the original 1997 regulations, which turns out to contain rules like this:
Acts prohibited in a Park
3. Subject to the provisions of regulation 6, no person using a Park shall—
(10) (a) ride any animal,
(b) drive or ride any vehicle, or
(c) use any pedal cycle, roller skate, roller blade, skate board or other foot-propelled device
in any manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any person;
(11) (a) use a pedal cycle (other than when it is parked), or
(b) drive or ride a vehicle
between sunset and sunrise, or in seriously reduced visibility between sunrise and sunset, unless it is lit in accordance with the Road Vehicles (Lighting) Regulations 1989(1)...
What's interesting there is that the regulations draw a clear distinction between 'vehicle' and 'pedal cycle' even when applying the same rule to them both. Surely, we thought, if the framers of this legislation - which included speed limits for 'vehicles in its 1997 form - had intended the speed limits to apply to bikes, the rule Ben cited in his first reply would explicitly say so.
We pointed this out to Ben, and asked "On what basis, then, are bicycles assumed to be vehicles for the purposes of speed limits, when they are clearly differentiated elsewhere in the regulations?"
By this point, we think Ben was getting a bit fed up of us. He responded:
The regulations refer to vehicles NOT Motor Vehicles. A Cycle is a vehicle
The Oxford English Dictionary provides a general definition of vehicle:
- a conveyance, usually with wheels, for transporting people, goods, etc
If you have any further queries on this subject I would suggest you seek legal advice. I am not in a position to go any further into this subject.
We asked Ben what legal advice parks police themselves sought in deciding to use these regulations against cyclists, but we didn't get a reply.
Since Parks police wouldn’t tell us if they’d talked to a lawyer about this, we thought we’d better ask one ourselves.
Top British time trialist Michael ‘Dr Hutch’ Hutchinson is best known for going very fast and writing amusingly about it in Cycling Weekly, but he actually is a doctor and his PhD is in law.
We asked Hutch if it was reasonable to argue that the 1997 regulations constantly differentiate between vehicle and bicycle so unless a bike is specifically included regulations that use the word 'vehicle' don't apply to bikes?
He told us:
Using the differentiation made in the 1997 regulations is a valid technique for interpreting legislation, but it's working off first principals. Clearly if there is a distinction between two groups, it's reasonable to conclude that when a subsequent reference is made to only one group that it is not intended to include the other one. But if there is an authority that interprets it otherwise, then that would take precedence. A dictionary definition is irrelevant.
Hutch then went and did some digging for us, reading the regulations with a Proper Lawyer’s eye, and not the dim understanding of someone who did a law subsidiary 30 years ago.
Here’s what he told us:
As a matter of legislative interpretation, the 1997 regulations seem to me to clearly and consistently distinguish between vehicles and pedal cycles. S3(11) is especially clear.
Section 3(12), for example, makes provision for driving or riding vehicles off the park roads, but makes no provision for a pedal cycle using a bike path -- and there are certainly at least some bike paths that are not park roads. So if 'vehicle' includes 'pedal-cycle' then it becomes an offence to ride a bicycle anywhere you can't drive a car. The use of pedal cycles on paths etc is entirely separately regulated (S3(3)).
On the other hand, the Road Traffic Regulation Act of 1984 is what specifies speed limits on national roads. In that instance the limits are applied to 'motor vehicles' only, which is what means limits don't apply to bikes on the open highway. You could argue that 'vehicles' in the Park Regs is distinguished from 'motor vehicles', and that they therefore mean different things. However, to my mind that still doesn't really address the very clear distinction between 'vehicles' and 'pedal cycles' in the Park Regs.
Incidentally, as far as I can see the limits only apply on Park Roads, so they don't apply on bike paths...
But bear in mind it is bloody years since I was in practice, and even when I was this wasn't what I did. If there is an authority establishing that 'vehicle' includes 'pedal cycle', then all bets are off (though we still have the s3(12) anomaly). I haven't actually gone to a library to do this 'properly' -- I'm just working off the internet, where I don't have access to the legal indices. It is possible that there is something out there that I just don't know about -- but it seems to me that if there were, the police would be only too delighted to tell you what it is.
I suspect there isn't a simple answer to this -- 'vehicle' without 'motor' or some other qualifier on it is a term that seems to be rare in the general legislation, and I can't find a legislative definition of it. My guess is that the limits being applied to cyclists in the park is on, at best, a very shaky basis.
It certainly seems to us, therefore, that there's grounds to fight a cycling speeding fine in Richmond Park. A cycling barrister we spoke to has offered to work pro bono (that's legalese for 'for free') if anyone wants to take on Parks police on this, so if you get pinged in the park, get in touch.
Update: I subsequently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police asking for the legal advice they had received when they decided to start fining cyclists for speeding. They were unable to locate any such advice.
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.