Is urinating in public ever acceptable?

From top left, clockwise Manneren pis statue in Belgium, empty loo roll, telephone box, public sign

A court ruling has cast doubt on whether urinating in public is a nuisance - as long as no-one sees. So is it really ever acceptable?

You are driving along an unfamiliar country road. An urgent dilemma nags at both your bladder and your conscience.

With no public toilets in sight, do you carry on in discomfort? Or do you find somewhere discreet to pull over?

While the cultural aversion to performing basic bodily functions in the open air is widespread, all too often it is tested by immediate physical pressures.

The rights and wrongs of this quandary have been tested in court after a couple in Somerset, John and Cherry Pusey, tried to force their local council to close a lay-by near their home which passing motorists regularly used for open-air "comfort breaks".

Public urinals This is a urinal...

However, Lord Justice Ward - sitting with Lords Justice Longmore and Patten at the Court of Appeal - ruled that the urinating drivers' impact was not "cumulatively intolerable" because they were not "obviously visible" from the Puseys' home, according to reports.

But whatever the legal position, not everyone will be convinced that this represents a factor in mitigation.

The spectacle of drunken revellers fouling town centres in the early hours of weekends is regularly held up as a symptom of societal decline.

There was widespread public anger at student Philip Laing, caught urinating on a Sheffield war memorial in 2009. And the practice can be deemed "disorderly behaviour" in England and Wales, an offence punishable with a fine under the 1986 Public Order Act.

Local authorities in Chester launched a crackdown after fears that well-refreshed revellers were causing irreparable damage to the city's medieval walkways.

Malmsmead in Exmoor ... this is not...

Even Paris, home of the pissoir, launched a high-profile, all-out crackdown on outdoor urination.

Environmental concerns have also driven the fight against al fresco relief. Researchers in Germany believe swimmers passing water into Eichbaum lake, Hamburg, are partly responsible for an algae bloom that killed more than 500 fish.

For this reason, the Glastonbury Festival regularly deploys a "green police" force which threatens revellers with expulsion if they fail to use toilets, amid fears that excess urination could affect the local water, polluting rivers and streams.

The zero-tolerance stance is backed by Raymond Boyd Martin, managing director of the British Toilet Association, which represents the UK lavatory industry.

War memorial ... nor is this. Urinating here could get you arrested

Boyd-Martin accepts that allowances should be made for the elderly and those with medical complaints - but otherwise, he believes, the practice should never be condoned.

"It's always anti-social," he says. "It has to be wrong in this day and age. There's no reason in the 21st Century we should have to do this.

"If you are making a journey you should be planning where and when you are going to stop - in restaurants, in hotels or in petrol stations.

"At the end of the day it's about decency. This is someone exposing themselves in a public place."

Nonetheless, anyone with a small child knows how difficult locating a toilet at any given time can be.

You may be excused

Woman needing loo

Jellyfish stings are commonly believed to be relieved by the application of urine.

17th Century diarist Samuel Pepys records the use of urine as a cosmestic treatment for women.

Scientists may have found a method of converting our pee into a source of renewable energy.

In the 16th Century, urine was used by some physicians as a disinfectant for the treatment of serious wounds.

Some horticulturists recommend the use of urine in the garden as a natural fertiliser - the nitrogen helps enrich compost.

Urban planners at the University of the West of England estimate that the UK has lost 40% of its public toilets in the past decade, a process that has been exacerbated by local authority budget cuts. In Manchester, the number of civic conveniences went from 19 to one.

At the same time, many people remain shy of using facilities in pubs, restaurants and shops of which they are not a customer.

Quentin Willson, motoring journalist and former Top Gear presenter, insists he has nothing to be ashamed of when he pulls over to use a lay-by.

On smaller roads where there are few roadside services, he says, they could be a life-saver.

"I would much rather have people weeing in them than carrying on driving and not being able to concentrate," he argues.

"I wouldn't go out to do it publicly, where there were a lot of people around. I'd find a bush or go into a field. Lay-bys are a fantastic British tradition."

Few philosophy textbooks have tackled this ethical conundrum. But millions have wrestled with it, on a highway far from home.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    When moderately hidden and in the country then it is acceptable, but when in a city when other people are likely to smell it a few days later then absolutely not. The smell of rancid pee makes me bork.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    Arguably, it is a grotesque disregard for human rights to deny the public a bodily function that could potentially harm their physical well being and dignity if not performed, Especially considering this tactic of removing public facilities then profiting from fines delegated to those unfortunate enough to be caught in the act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    As a keen walker in the countryside I have no choice on a ten mile plus walk with no toilets. As long as I don't pee into a stream or river etc, I don't see a problem so long as its behind a bush; after all, sheep, horses and cows don't use a toilet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    I think that it is less and less about public decency, and more about Local Councils finding a new source of income. In most places there is not a law against Urinating in Public, it is only in city centres such as Chester which have local byelaws enabling them to charge ridiculous fees, often there are very little public toilets which are rarely open and in sanitary condition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    I've almost been caught short reading some of the comments - good to see the British sense of humour is still alive and kicking!

    I live opposite a woodland, and many a time have seen men going behind a tree. So what? It's natural; there are no public loos around, so what are they supposed to do? The worst thing is for us women when we get caught and have to find somewhere ultra discreet - ugh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    I see people urinating in my street every week (in SW London so not a quiet country lane). Mainly taxi drivers who park round the corner outside the station. It's horrible to see, smells terrible and means I can't walk along that side of my street because of puddles of urine. The worst thing is that there is a public toilet about 20m away but they clearly don't think they should have to pay 20p!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    My understanding is that it is perfectly legal to urinate on the offside rear wheel of your own car, provided you keep one hand on the vehicle at all times.
    It comes from the The Town Police Causes Act 1847 and applied initially only to hackney cabs. It was mentioned in the House of Lords by Viscount Simon in 2005

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
    i often urinate outside, it feels great just letting go over a tree shrub or into a quiet spot.
    the police don't mind unless they are in a nasty mood. much better than the pain of holding onto that which we all need let go.
    nor do i mind others doing the same.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    its human nature to urinate ... if you have time in the day to complain how bad this is then clearly get a life. Descreet urinating is not a problem.

    Dont talk all that environmental rubbish thats all brainwashed into peoples heads so the government can tax you another way. if i went to a public toilet that i had to pay 50p to use id just pee up the door as revenge ... hahaha

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    When you've got to go, you've got to go. That's all there is to it. It's ruddy ridiculous to charge someone for performing a natural bodily function which they need to perform!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    Boyd-Martin's comments seem so out of touch with the problem

    We don't all drive in areas with petrol stations/hotels/restaurants. Nor can we all plan in advance how fast our metabolism will process excess fluid in our bodies. F1 drivers, Richard Hammond & paramedics know that driving with a full bladder is incredibly dangerous risking death in an accident from otherwise survivable injuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Secretbanker I think you are a liar or live in an area that has a multitude of public toilets. It must take you hours to get anywhere! I hate people like you and we all know what the banker part of your name stands for

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    Post 15 Greg - What a boring world and life we would all lead if we lived under your rules. Try going out and getting a life!

    Post 14 - secretbanker - you quite obviously do not have children as if you did would realise that young children have very small bladders and need to go to the toilet pretty imminently once they realise they need to go. It is people like you that make ime sick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    There's a big difference between weeing in a bush or a field and weeing in a high street or a carpark. We can't all be perfect planners and accidents will happen. As long as it's discrete and no harming anyone there's no problem.
    Driving with a full bladder is a regular cause of death in motorway accidents as the bladder bursts on impact, aside from being a distraction. Go before you leave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    Before I retired I was a regular user of the M25. When there was an accident you could be stationary for quite a long time and with no way of getting to a toilet I have at times been in considerable pain. A half pint screw top plastic milk bottle under the front seat of my car solved the problem and with a map strategicly placed no one was any the wiser.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    More and more restaurants, pubs and hotels actively ban non-customers from using their faciilties. I don't like it but these are private businesses so why should they have to make allowances for the general public to use their toilets. Public toilets for the public and until these are opened up again in great enough numbers how can one condemn the emergency open-air urinator!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    We need to bring back public toilets (preferably free of charge and well-kept!) and train toilets (the new Southern Coastway trains don't have any). People talk about planning for toilet breaks on car journeys, but what if there are unexpected delays on train journeys?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    In France it is common to see men peeing by the side of the road in town or country it is unpleasant and unhygenic but why do we lump small children into the same category as adults who unless they have a medical problem should be able to control themselves. As a woman I dont have the equipment to pee by the side of the road and must control myself, why should there be an exemption for men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    A lifeguard once screamed at me for urinating in my local swimming pool. He scared me so much I almost fell in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    All the public toilets around my town are either locked or sold so what do the authorities expect. When you've got to go............


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