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Is it Illegal to Park on the Pavement?

a car parked on a pavement outside a restaurant

As a learner driver, you probably focus a great deal on how to park—and rightly so: parallel parking isn’t going to learn itself. But you also need to know where you’re allowed to pull up. Lots of drivers get confused with these rules, particularly the ones that cover parking on pavements. But in order to avoid a fine—and to stop yourself becoming a hazard—you need to get your head around them as soon as possible.

We’re here to help you out, with the lowdown on where parking on pavements is allowed, when it’s illegal—and what the grey areas are. We’ll also look at how the law might change, and what that means for you, as a learner driver and beyond.


What’s wrong with parking on the pavement?

Parking on the pavement is problematic because it can obstruct the pavement for pedestrians. People may be forced to move onto the road to get past the car, pushing them into traffic. This disproportionally affects the most vulnerable, like those using a white cane or guide dog, or anyone who needs more space to travel along a pavement, such as those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs.

As the Highway Code puts it:

Parking on the pavement can obstruct and seriously inconvenience pedestrians, people in wheelchairs or with visual impairments and people with prams or pushchairs.

From a driver’s perspective, it’s difficult to see pedestrians emerging from behind parked cars, which increases the likelihood of hitting them. Again, it’s those with disabilities or children who are most at risk. For instance, if you are pushing a pram, you might stick the pram’s nose out first, before stepping out onto the road yourself.

Pedestrians walking along a pavement
Image source: Sunyu via Unsplash

As well as causing issues for pedestrians, if vehicles regularly park on the same stretches of pavement, this can also lead to the concrete getting damaged. This becomes a trip hazard, so the pavement needs repairing: costly for local governments and inconvenient for pedestrians.

If it’s such a problem, you might wonder why people continue to park on pavements at all. Well, some people have clearly forgotten their hazard perception training, or simply don’t think about how their actions impact pedestrians. But it’s not just thoughtless drivers who mount the curb. The roads in Britain, particularly in residential areas, are often quite narrow, which means that parked cars can obstruct traffic flow. Drivers are often mindful that other vehicles will struggle to pass them, so take steps to reduce that problem—often by parking partially on the pavement.


What counts as parking on a pavement?

When we talk about parking on the pavement, we’re talking about wholly or partially. So yes, that means your entire car might be up on the pavement. But it’s much more likely that you’ll mount the curb with just one or two of your tyres—and the laws we’re going to discuss count this as pavement parking too.


Can you park on the pavement?

The rules for parking on pavements are vary in different parts of the UK. You should learn what’s expected in different areas so that you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

England and Wales

With the exception of London, it is not illegal to park, fully or partially, on a pavement in England or Wales. However, Rule 244 of the Highway Code strongly discourages drivers from mounting the curb. It says that you:

should not do so… unless signs permit it.

In practical terms that means that there’s no blanket law stopping you from parking on a pavement, so you won’t automatically get fined for doing so. However, it’s not quite as clear cut as that. You can still find yourself on the wrong side of the rules if any of the following apply:

  • You are found to be causing an obstruction. The Highways Act 1980 says “If a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine…” Here, a “highway” refers to both the road and pavement.
  • You disobey a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). The local council can apply for a TRO to make it illegal to park on certain pavements where they deem it especially problematic. There will be signs or road markings showing those areas where parking is expressly prohibited.
  • You are in contravention of other parking regulations, like double yellow lines—which apply to parking on the pavement, just as they do to parking on the road.

Depending on the circumstances, you can face a fine from the police (a Fixed Penalty Notice) or from the local authority (a Penalty Charge Notice) for breaking the law.

London

A no parking sign against a brick wall
Image source: Matt Seymour via Unsplash

London takes a stricter stance than the rest of England: there it is illegal to park on a pavement by default. Again, it’s Rule 244 of the Highway Code that tells us this:

You MUST NOT park partially or wholly on the pavement in London

Where you see the words ‘must’ or ‘must not’ in the Highway Code, this is an instruction that is bound by legislation. The law in question here is the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1974. It basically says that if any of your tyres are up on the curb, you could face a fine.

However, some pavements are exempt from the rules, because parking fully on the roads would cause too much disruption to traffic flow. There will be signs and road markings where this is the case.

Additionally, there are some limited and exceptional circumstances where you could justify parking on the pavement. You’d be allowed to do so in order to try and save a life or put out a fire, or if a uniformed police officer gave you permission to park there.

Scotland

In 2019, Scotland introduced a law that would make pavement parking illegal by default. It comes into effect in 2021, and the rules will be very similar to those in London. Again, local authorities will be able to apply for some pavements to be exempt—a bit like the TRO system in reverse.


Is the law going to change?

cartoon silhouette of police officer

At the moment, the laws about parking on pavements are quite haphazard. Lots of groups have called for it to be made illegal, and in 2019 a Department of Transport review found that pavement parking caused major issues for pedestrians.

The government has agreed that changes need to be made, and has put together different ideas for how this could work. They’ve been asking the public, charity organisations and local authorities to give their views on these options, or to present their own.

At the moment we don’t know which approach will prevail. It might mean that the rest of England and Wales will be brought into line with London, with pavement parking made illegal. Alternatively, local authorities might just be given more powers to fine drivers found breaking the rules. Whatever happens, it’s likely that the law will clamp down on people who park on pavements without a justifiable excuse.

No change would be straightforward, and even if the law was passed tomorrow, it would be a while before it comes into force. Don’t worry though—we’ll keep you updated, let you know as and when the law changes, and how it will affect you.


What does all of this mean for me as a learner driver?

Well, there are a few main things you should take away from learning about the parking on pavements laws.

Learn the rules about where you are and aren’t allowed to stop—then follow them to the letter.

Consider how your parking will impact others. If you include both vehicles and pedestrians in your assessment, you can’t go far wrong.

Remain vigilant as you pass parked vehicles. Keep your eyes peeled for a pedestrian to emerge from behind a parked vehicle. During the hazard perception part of your theory test, this is quite likely to be a situation you face. Remember that the test is a reflection of real life scenarios you will encounter—and coming across cars parked on pavements is one of those you’re likely to face regularly.

Keep an eye on the news. Traffic laws don’t remain static, and as a driver you’re expected to know what’s allowed and what’s not—even if it’s something that’s recently changed.


Recap

  • Parking on the pavement is not currently illegal in England and Wales (except in London)
  • However, it is often inadvisable, as it can force pedestrians out into the road
  • You can still be fined for parking on a pavement in you’re causing an obstruction or if there are signs or road markings prohibiting it
  • In London and Scotland, pavement parking is illegal, although there are some exceptions
  • The law in England and Wales is likely to change soon to reduce pavement parking

Keep safe and pass your tests: get to know more traffic rules with the law section of our blog.

By Katie Scott

Katie grew up in the middle of nowhere, so knows the true value of getting behind the wheel. From the rules of the road to handy hints and tips, she'll give you the lowdown on all things driving. Always on the move, when she's not in the car, you'll probably find Katie darting around the squash courts or out running in the rainy British countryside.

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