Accidents Caused By Potholes

Roads in England have been described as suffering a pothole epidemic caused by years of under-investment in the roads by successive governments.

The Asphalt Industry Alliance carries out an annual survey of the councils in England, who are the local highway authorities responsible for maintaining roads, and each year the highway authorities report large shortfalls in their budgets for money available to spend repairing and maintaining roads.

Potholes develop in road surfaces that are in a worn condition with cracks in the tarmac. Rain water gets into the cracks and during freezing weather  the water expands and makes the cracks larger. The vehicle traffic using the road then causes the cracked tarmac to deteriorate and break, resulting in holes developing in the worn tarmac.

The local councils are under a legal duty to maintain roads in a reasonably safe condition and every year each local council on average fill 20,700 potholes, at a cost of about £52 for each pothole.

Potholes are a safety problem, causing accidents to pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers. A compensation claim may be made to the local council if it can be shown that the pothole that caused the accident was a result of the council’s failure to carry out its duties as the local highway authority. Each year the councils pay out tens of millions of pounds in compensation to injured people and also for the cost of repairs to cars damaged by potholes.

If you suffer an accident caused by a pothole it is important to take photographs of the pothole because the photographs will be a record of the condition of the road. Local councils and their insurance companies frequently dispute that the bad road condition that caused the accident was due to a failure by the council to carry out its legal duty to maintain the road. Therefore people generally find it necessary to use a solicitor experienced in accident compensation claims to work on their behalf in making the compensation claim to the council.

Over the years there have been many court decisions where the courts have ordered councils to pay compensation to the victims of accidents caused by potholes and road surfaces being in a hazardous condition, such as Wilkinson v The City of York Council, a case concerning a cyclist who was awarded compensation after falling from cycle due to a pothole in the road.

Asphalt Industry Alliance’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey:

Legal duties of highway authorities are contained in The Highways Act 1980.

Safe Cycling

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of men and women cycling on Britain’s busy and crowded roads, and unfortunately road accident statistics published by the Department for Transport have shown an increase in the number of cyclists who have been seriously injured in road accidents.

Cyclists are a vulnerable type of road user, however many of the laws that apply to car drivers also apply to cyclists, such as the legal requirement to obey road signs and signals.  For instance, the road traffic offence of red light jumping at traffic lights applies to cyclists in the same way as motorists, and a cyclist could receive a fixed penalty notice of £50 for the offence.

It has been the law for almost 200 years that cyclists are not permitted to ride on pavements next to roads, just like car drivers and van drivers must not travel along pavements.  (Different laws apply to “footpaths” that are not next to roads.)

Section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 1980 makes it an offence for a person to ride a cycle on a road without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other road users. A cyclist found guilty by a court of the offence of careless cycling faces receiving a fine of up to £1,000.

Car drivers and motor cyclists could receive a fixed penalty notice for the offence of using a hand-held mobile phone, however this law prohibiting the use of hand-held phones does not apply to cyclists.

The drink drive alcohol limits for motorists do not apply to cyclists, although section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1980 makes it an offence to cycle if unfit to do so due to alcohol or drugs. The legal test is whether the cyclist is incapable of having proper control of the cycle, rather than failing a breathalyser test. The maximum penalty for cycling under the influence of alcohol or drugs is £1,000, however depending on the circumstances of the incident, the cyclist may be prosecuted for the offence of dangerous cycling that carries a higher penalty.

More information on cycling: