Dogs on shared paths

Dogs on shared paths

What is the law regarding dogs on shared-use cycle/footpaths in the UK?

Reg Cave

Where there are cyclists sharing cycle/footpaths in the vicinity of dog walkers, it is in my view highly advisable for dogs to be kept on short leads. Recently, cyclist Anthony Steele was awarded £65,000 compensation after he suffered injuries when he became entangled in a long extendable lead. He noticed a group of people standing in the middle of the path, so he rang his bell to warn them of his approach. As he cycled to the left of them, one of the pedestrians’ dogs darted out in front of him, causing his bike to get caught in the retractable lead.

However, there is no legal requirement for a dog to be kept on a lead on a public right of way. A local authority can make an order under Section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 that dogs are kept on leads on certain paths.  

Livestock are afforded legal protection under Section 1 of the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953. Humans are afforded legal protection under the Animals Act 1971. Section 2 (2) of the Act provides, ‘Where damage is caused by an animal which does not belong to a dangerous species, a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage, except as otherwise provided by this act, if –

(a) The damage is of a kind which the animal, unless restrained, was likely to cause or which if caused by the animal, was likely to be severe; and

(b) The likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics of the animal which are not normally found in animals of the same species or are not normally so found except at particular times or in particular circumstances; and

(c) Those characteristics were known to the keeper or were at any time known to a person who at that time had charge of the animal as that keeper’s servant or, where the keeper is the head of the household, were known to another keeper of the animal who is a member of that household and under the age of 16.’

This is a poorly drafted piece of legislation. To establish liability, each of the three criteria set out above must be considered in turn. Liability will only be imposed on the keeper of the animal if each of the requirements is satisfied.  

Under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (Section 3), it is a criminal offence (for the owner and/or the person in charge) to allow a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place or a place where it is not permitted to be. A ‘dangerously out of control’ dog can be defined as a dog that has injured someone or a dog that a person has grounds or reasonable apprehension that it may do so.  

Paul Kitson

Partner from Slater and Gordon Lawyers

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This Q&A was published in 'Cycle' the magazine for members of Cycling UK. To contact the experts, email your technical, health, legal or policy questions to editor@cyclinguk.org or write to Cycle Q&A, PO Box 313, Scarborough, YO12 6WZ

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