Trailing a cable across a public footpath can be illegal under the Highways Act 1980 due to obstruction. However, whether you receive a warning letter from the council about it is something of a postcode lottery.
Equally perilous is the chance you trip someone and cause them injury. You will be liable for this, and your motor insurer might not cover you.
What the legislation says
Under the Highways Act 1980, c.66, part IX, Section 162, “Lawful and Unlawful Interference with Highways and Streets”, it is illegal to run a cable along a public highway because it is classed as an obstruction.
However, there is an important exemption.
Here’s what the legislation says:
“No person shall fix or place any overhead beam, rail, pipe, cable, wire or other similar apparatus over, along with or across a highway without the consent of the highway authority for the highway.
In addition, the legislation states:
“A person who for any purpose places any rope, wire or other apparatus across a highway in such a manner as to be likely to cause danger to persons using the highway is, unless he proves that he had taken all necessary means to give adequate warning of the danger, guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Level 3 (£1,000).
To cut a long story short, trailing a cable/wire across a path to charge your electric car could see you fined up to £1,000 for the privilege when a location is not suitable.
However, the legislation also states a possible exemption if you have “taken all necessary means to give adequate warning of the danger”. This is a grey area because the legislation does not define what “adequate warning” means.
If needs must, use a cable protector
We don’t endorse trailing a cable across a public footpath to charge your electric car, but you can reduce the risk to pedestrians with a cable protector.
Cable protectors fit flush to the ground with a small ramp, enveloping the cable to reduce the tripping hazard. Here’s what one looks like:
Using a cable protector is a simple, affordable way to highlight that you have trailed a wire/cable across the path. However, it’s important to remember it is not a perfect solution, with visually impaired people and children at risk.
The cable protector should cover the full area to be walked on, including the full width of any footway and verge between the property and the vehicle.
Under the Highways Act 1980, if you take all necessary means to give adequate warning of the danger, then trailing a cable is not usually illegal, however, the mechanism for it to be illegal still exists.
It should also be said that some councils do not allow cables across pavements, full stop, and they are within their rights to tell you to stop.
For this reason, policies vary from council to council.
Remember – cable protectors reduce risks to pedestrians, but don’t eliminate them. By trailing a cable, you always run the risk of injuring someone. If a passer-by injures themselves due to your cable, then you can be held responsible.
If you’re not so keen on trailing a cable across a footpath, there are plenty of other ways to charge with no driveway.
Additionally, the On-Street Residential Charge Point Scheme offers councils funding for the installation of on-street chargers, covering £13,000 per charge point installation in 2022. It is worth asking your council about this.
Cable protector image credit: The Workplace Depot.