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 345.

    With a little common sense, 99% of people will be in agreement about where it is or isn't okay to have a pee. Is it even necessary to spell it out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    There is a huge difference between urinating in public and urinating as privately as possible in a public place. Whilst we continue to close more and more public conveniences, there are situations where it is simply not physically possible to refrain. Whilst I personally don't consider I have a medical problem, I do suffer from urge incontinence and have been caught short numerous times.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    A motorbike rider in helmet & leathers broke down
    on a lay-by in winter. A lorry driver stops to help by
    urinating on the frozen carburettor, biker notes telephone
    number on lorry. Father rings the company to thank
    the driver for helping his daughter to get home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Love the picture and telling us that it is a urinal.. Does that mean that men don`t know what they look like! lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    If the authorities fail to provide public toilets which are readily accessible and don’t need a mortgage then yes. I always believed you could urinate against your rear nearside wheel and not be prosecuted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    i agree that a discreet pee wont harm anyone and i agree this is mainly the case in the more rural areas but once i nearly peed myself in London because i was so desperate and the coffee shops wouldn't let me use their loos unless i bought a drink! and the underground had none, i eventually found a public loo but i was close to popping by that time and in agony. more public loos required!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    With most public toilets locked or boarded up thanks to local government that fail to provide even this most basic of needs,what do people expect? If anyone could be bothered to get off their sofas & vote maybe things would change. Nobody wants to urinate in public - they are forced to when caught short & should never be put in this position in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Following surgery for prostate cancer, I no longer have full control over my bladder so if I'm driving and the need arises I have no qualms about pulling into a lay-by to urinate - what else can I do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Some people have said this is a health issue! Where do they think all the cows, sheep, dogs, cats, foxes, mice, rats, badgers, squirrels, etc go to the toilet? Do you see them queueing up at the nearest Little Chef at 9.55pm desperate to use the toilet before it closes? No; they pee in the fields. The volume of their combined urine vastly exceeds that of motorists who have had a pee in a lay-by.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    It's essential - not just acceptable.

    In the Borough of Harrow in NW London all public toilets have been closed. Very few stations have toilets and the tube trains have none. In central London no Tube stations have toilets. So what are people supposed to do, wet themselves?

    Wait for the flood of urine that will accompany the Olympics as visitors fail to find loos.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Behind a hedge on a country lane - no problem. In someone's front garden - totally unacceptabe. It is common sense. The UK is just very prudish, like the use of the word toilet, or even washroom. What is wrong with lavatory or WC?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    This is a silly debate, urination in public as long as its not causing offense should be over looked, in some parts of the world, urination in public is essential, for example defrosting the car door lock!!

    People should start having a sense of humor!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    254. McLaren MP4-4

    "Whether you think you are in sight or not is immaterial as a lack of respect for the environment is the only outcome..."
    The environment may be marginally improved by a little water and nitrates. Urine and liquid plant food share many of the same ingredients. Peeing on a compost heap is an old trick to improve the compost!

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Re: peeing against the wheel of your car. I'm afraid it's an urban myth. It never applied to motor vehicles. There was a law once, but since repealed, that referred to a taxi, bus, tram, or anything else that was drawn by a horse. The driver was allowed to pee against the brake wheel. He couldn't nip off behind a bush, as he would not be in control of his horse, thereby endangering the public.

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Given the tight-arsed stance of most local authorities, it is inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    I was stranded in Paris over New Year's Eve in 1999/2000 and desperately needed to urinate.. there were no public conveniences. I held it in for 5 hours. By the end I could not stand up straight and was in searing pain. I could no longer move so had to in the end. Not something I'm proud of but sometimes it happens

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    I walked from Shadwell to Red Lion Sq in Holborn, that's about 4 miles through central London, without finding somewhere to go one Sunday evening. I went for a leak in a bladders law has the last word!

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    In the olden days anybody found urinating in public was beheaded. It's time we brought back these draconian measures to rid our streets of this behaviour.........along with parking on yellow lines.............and maybe not picking your dog mess up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    "...Is urinating in public ever acceptable?..."


    If it's the only way of extinguishing the fuse to a terrorist bomb, I'd say so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    If councils or governments want to do something about public urination, they should never allow restaurants or bars to refuse people access to the toilets. Why are they allowed to do this? It's an inescapable human need, and in public it's always easy to tell the difference between a blatant act of desecrating a war memorial, and a conscious attempt at trying to urinate somewhere discreet.


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