Highway Authorities: Fit for Purpose?


Once more, a Highway Authority’s admitted breach of its duty under S41 of the Highway Act has caused the death of a cyclist; on this occasion the  much respected and loved Mr Colledge in a crash at Winmarleigh in January 2023 in a monster defect which the locals had reported to Lancashire County Council on 9th September 2022 but which the Inspectors has failed to find or repair. At the inquest Lancashire’s preposterous argument was that the defect must somehow have ‘healed up’ when the Highway Inspectors checked the road. Here’s what the Coroner had to say:

“I consider that the position adopted by the Council in respect of this defies all reasonable logic……………………………..the council’s maintained position in respect of the crack is, I consider not capable of belief and contrary not only to the weight of the evidence but also to common sense.

Mr Colledge’s family are well within their rights to feel outraged at the continued refusal of LCC to accept the glaringly obviously with regards to the ongoing presence of this crack”.

The ‘common sense’ comment might equally well be applied to so many Highway Defect cases I’ve run over the years. Since the Code of Practice was watered down in 2016, Highway Authorities have been able to make their own rules for categorization and intervention of defects. The old Code specified dimensions, its successor leaves that to the individual HA.

Thousands of injuries, minor or not so minor, go uncompensated every year. The HA’s insurers boast that they are only compelled to pay out in 22% of notified cases.

But it’s not just the victims who are losing out. The taxpayer also takes a hit, because when a claim is rejected, the NHS cannot claim back the costs of hospital treatment nor can the DWP recover any benefits paid to the injured party. Win-win for the HA’s and their insurers.

The claims departments of HA’s and insurers are well funded and briefed sufficiently to be able to bamboozle a Claimant in person or their lawyer, who will likely be working on a no win-no fee retainer and who will be paid only  on a paltry scale of fixed costs should they win. Whether by accident or design, I have seen HA’s conveniently omit to disclose key images and documents until a very late stage (so defeating the prospect of a Claimant introducing their own expert evidence) and the same HA as in the Colledge case disclosing out of date/superceded material to the Claimant’s representatives.

The playing field is far from level, which is of little solace to the bereaved families of Mr Colledge, Martyn Uzzell (North Yorks), Carolyn Dumbleton (Derbyshire)……..the list goes on.

A few years back the eminent transport and cycling academic Professor John Parkin once published a paper entitled “Lancashire: the Cyclists’ County”; presumably not on the Highway Department’s reading list.

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