Can you claim for a cycling accident caused by poor road condition?

The serious injuries sustained in the men's and women's road races at the Rio Olympics this weekend has highlighted the dangers posed to cyclists by "road furniture" and road condition.

Vincenzo Nibali, Sergio Henao and Team GB's Geraint Thomas crashed out of the men's race on Saturday, while Annemiek van Vleuten sustained serious spinal fractures after hitting a steep curb.

Ex-Olympian Chris Boardman said of the route,"I looked at the road furniture and thought, nobody can crash here and just get up. It is really bad..."

Cyclists are most vulnerable

Moreso than any other road-user, cyclists are vulnerable to the state of a road surface. Where surfaces are poorly maintained even the most experienced cyclists may lose control of their cycles and may collide with roadside kerbs, street furniture such as bollards and lampposts, or other road users.

With nothing to protect them from the impact of hitting a hard surface the consequences of such accidents may be devastating, especially when travelling at speed. 

A cyclist who crashes may sustain broken bones including vertebrae, collarbones, limbs, or the pelvis. Head injuries or concussion may also be sustained, even when wearing a properly fitting cycling helmet.

What sort of road defects cause cyclists to crash?

Road conditions that may cause cyclists to crash include slippery surfaces caused by smooth, worn tarmac, spilled gravel or oil spills, and raised manhole covers, sunken potholes or drains.

Front cycle wheels that hit the raised edges of a kerb or manhole cover or the sunken edges of a pothole may stop suddenly, but the forward momentum of the cyclist may continue, catapulting the rider over the front of the cycle. Slippery surfaces may cause the cyclist to slide, either to the ground, or into an immovable object.

Who is responsible for ensuring that roads are in good condition?

Under Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980 the highway authority has a statutory duty to maintain the highway, with local authorities being responsible for the upkeep of the roads within their area. 

Local authorities are provided with guidance on best practice in highways management through the Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance (CPHM)

First endorsed by local government associations in 1983 and with several revisions the CPHM should be used by authorities to help develop a robust regime of safety inspection and repair and to determine what a reasonable schedule of maintenance should be for that particular local area.

The wide ranging scope of the CPHM includes:

•    Routine maintenance to provide works or services for patching and cleaning to a regular consistent schedule.
•    Reactive maintenance to respond to inspections, complaints or emergencies;
•    A planned schedule of maintenance for larger schemes of resurfacing, reconditioning or reconstruction work.
•    Planning for provision of salting and clearance of snow and ice in winter;

Can a personal injury claim be brought against the local authority if the poor road surface caused an accident?

If it can be demonstrated that the cyclist’s accident was due to the LA’s failure to maintain the road surface, the cyclist may be eligible to claim compensation from the relevant local authority (LA).

However, LAs are allowed a reasonable period of time between identifying or being advised of faults in the road surface and repairing them (Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980). 

This means that a local authority may defend any claim made by the injured cyclist, if it can demonstrate through its records that the location was visited recently and a repair was planned, or there were no defects at the time of the last inspection. 

Not all defects are the LA’s responsibility. Some hazards may be created by authorities such as utility companies who dig up roads.

If the road surface is not finished to the correct standard or holes are left unprotected, accidents may occur. 
Where this happens you may be able to bring a claim against the company who carried out the work.


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