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The fun of 4x4s… legally

The 4×4 and SUV market is forever growing and many motorists purchase these vehicles to experience the thrill of some off-road adventures. If the most excitement you see in your 4×4 is a full load of shopping on the way back from the supermarket, then it may be time to put it through its paces. Hopefully these tips will help you prepare you for the adventure and keep you and your vehicle legal.

Green Laning

This is the term used to describe driving on what are traditionally un-surfaced lanes, trails or tracks that are open for motorised vehicles. They can sometimes be known as byways, they are often overgrown, country roads off the beaten track. The official term is actually BOATs (Byways Open To All Traffic) or UCRs (Unclassified Country Roads) – which is quite the mouthful, so we will stick with green lanes!

Common questions we receive are:

Do I need tax, MOT and a driving licence to drive on a green lane?

Despite their often-beaten-up appearance, green lanes are still legal public highways and are therefore subject to the same laws and traffic orders as any other roads you drive on in your day to day life. You will need vehicle excise duty, insurance, a valid MOT and, of course, a driving licence. Driving off-road without any of these will render you liable to prosecution.

Can I drive any green lane?

To make things a little more complicated, not all green lanes are open to general traffic and some of them have a TRO (Traffic Regulation Order) on them. The onus is on you as the motorist to check whether the green lane is actually open to traffic or not, and we would recommend checking the Traffic Regulation Order Library (you can Google it) before you partake in any kind of off-roading.

How do I find these green lanes?

There are several clubs around the country that organise regular off-roading events, and if you’re in a big city, such as London, you can probably find a club relatively near to you.

Can I go green laning on my own?

You can, but it’s not advisable. As stated above, the same laws regulate these roads as any other and if you’re not used to navigating the unstable terrain, you might be involved in an accident. You can still be charged with careless and/or dangerous driving, so it’s better to have a more experienced companion with you initially. Furthermore, if you’re alone and you experience any difficulties with your vehicle (flat tyre, engine trouble etc) it’s better to know help may be nearby to assist you.

Do I need any special equipment?

We’ve written previous articles about how to prepare for certain journeys and the same rules apply here. It’s always advisable to have a mobile phone and charger, first aid kit, food and blankets in case you’re temporarily stranded, spare tyre(s), car jack etc. You should also make sure all of the usual maintenance checks have been carried out prior to your journey (oil, water, tyre pressures etc) and consider taking an actual A-to-Z map (remember those?!) in the event you have poor mobile reception for Google maps! Unlike most journeys, we would also recommend packing a shovel. The muddy terrain you will usually find yourself in may mean you need to literally dig yourself out of trouble, on occasions.

The most common misconception about off-roading is that you’re not on a “public road”. We have taken several enquiries from motorists charged with speeding, drink driving, being drunk in charge of a vehicle, careless driving etc and one of the common responses we hear is “but I was on private land”.

You should always err on the side of caution and ultimately, if anybody else has access to the land and/or roads, then for the purposes of road traffic law, it will be considered a public place or highway.

If you’re off-roading with friends in a number of vehicles, we would also advise caution when driving in a convoy. Motorcyclists are often charged with driving offences when they travel in a “pack”, as other road users may be intimidated and inconvenienced by them all travelling together. Whilst it may be tempting to ride alongside 10 of your buddies in your 4x4s, just ensure you all drive safely and remain respectful of other road users. The classic Mini Cooper next to you might not feel quite as safe alongside or in front of a long line of 4x4s!

Finally, we also recommend you remain mindful about modifications. Upgrading your vehicle might be a huge part of the fun, but even when off-roading it must remain compliant with road traffic laws and regulations. Tinted windows, alloys, interior lighting, spoilers and roof racks etc., must all be compliant to avoid causing inconvenience or distraction to other road users.

Green laning is huge fun, but there can be considerable risks. Have fun, but stay safe. If you do end up in a legal pickle, we are on-hand for free advice!

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