Wednesday 1 May 2013

So, what powers do the police actually have in relation to road racing?

It is today reported in the Hull and East Riding Mail that Cycle Races in the East Riding are being cancelled after Humberside Police told organisers that they 'would not support' events without road closures.  Sometimes we do need to pinch ourselves to remember that, happily, we do not live in a police state.  What we can, and cannot do, is governed by the law not the support, or otherwise of the Police.  It is true that local Police forces do have some discretionary powers relating to the organisation of Road Races but this discretion is not unbounded and is strictly curtailed by statute.

My advice to road race organisers in the past has been that the police do not have the power to tell them that they may only run a race on condition that the road is closed.  Here in a nutshell (but inevitably requiring 'legalese') is why.

A cycle race on a public road is prohibited by section 31(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 unless the race is authorised by or under regulations under that section.  The powers of the police in this area stem from the Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations 1960 (as amended in 1963, 1980, 1988 and 1995).  These Regulations now take effect as though made under section 31.  Regulation 5 authorises a bicycle race on the public highway subject to ‘the standard conditions’ which includes a condition that the length of the circuit is at least 10 miles.  If the standard conditions do not apply, then the police may authorise the race pursuant to a power under regulation 7.

Pursuant to Regulation 8, then, if the race is authorised by Regulation 5 and if the appropriate officer of police considers it desirable that conditions should be imposed on the holding or conduct of the race he may impose such conditions ‘for that purpose’ as he may think fit.  If the race is authorised by the police pursuant to Regulation 7 the officer of the police may impose such conditions as he may think fit on the holding or conduct of the race.  In practical terms it appears highly unlikely that there is any real distinction in the power of the police under Regulation 8 to impose conditions in either case.

Examples of the type of condition that the police may see fit to impose are set out in Regulation 8(4).  The list is expressly non-exclusive and without prejudice to the generality of the above provisions.  Nonetheless it is noteworthy that all the examples (days, times, places, route, number of competitors and arrangements for marshalling) are within the power of the race organiser.  Although couched in wide general terms the conditions all relate to ‘the holding or conduct of the race’ and, in order to be workable, it is necessary that they relate to matters that are similarly within the control of the race organiser.

The 1960 Regulations were brought into force under section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 1956 (then in force but subsequently repealed) pursuant to which, the police had a power under the same section  to direct the movement of traffic and/or close a road to vehicles or vehicles of a certain class, see section 13(3) of the 1956 Act.  The police still have this power, now pursuant to section 31(4) and (5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.  This statutory framework makes it again virtually inconceivable that the conditions imposed under Regulation 8 would ever have been envisaged as including a condition that the same police who are imposing the condition exercise their power under the Act to close the road.

It was only later that the Highway Authority was granted the power to close roads in connection with special events.  This power was introduced in the Road Traffic Regulation (Special Events) Act 1994 which, as Hansard for 4th March 1994 makes clear, was introduced to facilitate the running of two stages of the Tour de France in England in July 1994.  The power is now in section 16A of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.  The section provides that the Highway Authority may temporarily restrict or prohibit traffic on a road, on which a sporting event, social event or entertainment is taking place.  The Highway Authority has power to restrict or prohibit the use of the road by vehicles or vehicles of any class or pedestrians as it considers necessary or expedient.  The debates in Parliament suggest that his section was to apply to major events such as the Tour de France.  The responsible minister, Robert Key, in giving Government support to the Private Member’s Bill said (Hansard 04.03.94, col 1226)

“As long ago as 1839, the House recognised that special measures were needed when it gave the Metropolitan police Commissioner powers to help control events in London. In 1956, it was agreed that events such as cycle races need to be controlled and in the Road Traffic Act 1956, cycle racing was made illegal unless held in accordance with regulations. That Act also gave chief constables powers to close roads for authorised cycle races. Those powers were perfectly adequate then and remain adequate for the overwhelming majority of cycle races, but they are not sufficient for the really big events, such as the tour de France or the Kellogg's tour of Britain. Those and other events need powers that will make it possible to control the huge number of spectators, so as to minimise the disruption to local communities.”

It is clear enough that the Highway Authority was being endowed with powers to close roads for the ‘really big events’ and existing powers, principally the powers of the police to close roads, were considered adequate for the overwhelming majority of cycle races.

In short the police have the power to impose conditions upon the organiser of a race and the police have the additional power, should they deem it necessary, to close the road.  It makes a nonsense of the statutory scheme for them to seek to impose a condition that somebody else close the roads.  The nonsense is further exemplified by the fact that the Highway Authority may not make an order under section 16A in relation to a cycle race prohibiting or restricting the use of roads unless the race is authorized by the Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations.  Plainly the authorisation of the race and the question of road closure are two quite distinct issues and the necessity or otherwise of closure should be considered after the race has been authorised.

For those reasons the police do not have the power to impose a condition on the running of a race that the roads be closed by the Highways Authority.  Nor do they have the power to ban a race, they have the power to impose conditions as authorised by the Regulations.


  1. Well, further to my reply to your post yesterday, this is another example of the police not wanting to do any work and essentially telling people to go and take it up with the local highway authority.

    It is not just races, there are all sorts of things that local plod used to help out with such as carnival processions - actually our local plod held the traffic briefly round my way for a St George's Day scout march (so they do help sometimes); but often, they will state lack of resources, go and pay for a 16A road closure.

  2. Presumably, though, Plod could lawfully require an event organiser to take all reasonable steps to secure road closures, including applying for them in good time and in accordance with the LHA's regular practices?

  3. Yes, but once they have palmed off the issue to the LHA, it ceases to be plod's problem other than not objecting to the LHA 16A road closure.

    Gradually, things the police used to do is being moved to LHAs without plod keep the powers should they need them.

    Look at parking - if someone parks on a double yellow line in a decriminalised parking area, there is sod all the police can do now and the perps know it.

  4. Keith (Ex Traffic Cop)10 August 2014 at 06:45

    I would add to the above that it is the government that is removing the powers from police as they do not see it as part of the function of police to 'control' events, hence why traffic wardens and specialist traffic police (generally enforcing traffic laws, enforcing defective vehicle legislation and patrolling motorways) have been devolved to local authorities and the Highways Agency. This also conveniently reduces the costs of policing, reducing the numbers of police and other staff, plus the cost of the equipment. I accept the costs are moved elsewhere, but the cost of police and police pensions are reduced to the government as well as justifying the closure of 'surplus' police buildings!