Coroner warns of pothole risk to cyclists

November 15 2017   | Region: Cymru Wales, East Midlands, East of England, London, North East & Cumbria, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South East, South West, West Midlands, Yorkshire & the Humber

Coroner warns of pothole risk to cyclists

More cyclists risk dying on the roads unless potholes are filled in a timely fashion, a Greater Manchester assistant coroner has warned.

Peter Sigee’s report follows an inquest into the death of Roger Hamer, 83, who fell from his bicycle on Bury New Road in Ramsbottom.

One of three potholes identified in the carriageway near to where the cyclist fell was found to be ‘generally in excess of 50mm deep’ and measured 1.5m long by up to 0.6m wide. A jury concluded that the pothole was probably the cause of the fall.

The coroner raised concerns that the highway inspector who carried out monthly inspections of the road prior to the incident ‘did not photograph, measure or record any details’ of the condition of the carriageway where the pothole developed. Lack of paint markings around the potholes to highlight their presence was also raised as an issue.

He also noted that Bury Metropolitan Borough Council is in the process of adopting a new procedure for highway management, based on the Department for Transport’s code of practice ‘Well Managed Highway Infrastructure’ published in October 2016, which advocates a ‘risk based’ approach to managing defects.

Bury’s current procedure is to repair defects found to be 40mm deep or greater. Under the new procedure 40mm will be redefined as the ‘investigation level’. The coroner said that if 40mm is specified as the minimum threshold for investigation, then defects which measure less may not be investigated and those above 40mm may not be repaired.

He noted that highway inspectors have a discretion under both the current and new procedures to repair defects which do not meet the intervention or investigation criteria. But the coroner added: “I consider that the new procedure will increase the risk of future deaths, in particular to cyclists”.

A spokesman for Bury Council said the change from ‘intervention’ levels to ‘investigatory’ is a reflection of the move towards a more risk based approach for highway maintenance outlined in the new national code of practice.

“It would be foolish to disregard the guidance,” he added, “but each highway authority has discretion to apply its own policies based on its own risk assessment and priorities. It is likely that, while we will follow the code of practice generally, Bury’s policies will exceed the requirements of the code.”

The spokesman also pointed out that Bury is spending an extra £10M to improve the condition of its roads, with the majority to be spent on early intervention and resurfacing work to help prevent future problems arising.

The Department for Transport said it is up to local authorities to decide and determine the dimension of a pothole as a basis for their decision making. It added that this could include adopting a risk based approach, where a highway inspector makes a judgement. Most authorities, it continued, adopt an approach that combines consideration of both the dimensions and the risk.

Keystone Law solicitor Steven Conway, who specialises in representing highway authorities, defended the new code of practice. “Adopting a risk based approach may mean there are no longer any minimum standards for intervention, but that should mean that highways are safer. Under the old regime if a defect fell below that intervention level it would not usually be picked up.

“The new code of practice tries to get away from highway inspectors slavishly following set criteria. Inspectors should now adopt a risk based approach to identify defects which are dangerous, whether they are below the investigatory level or not.”

But serious injury lawyer Richard Gaffney from solicitor Slater and Gordon, which represents Cycling UK, said national standards need to be set as to what constitutes a pothole, otherwise councils may be tempted to extend the level at which they intervene.

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The pothole on Bury New Road

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