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Cycling Accidents: When is a Pothole Not a Pothole?

By Principal Lawyer, Personal Injury

A cyclist voiced concerns about the state of the roads around the area where he lived and asked his local authority for some sections to be repaired.

He was advised that: "The inspector will measure the pothole to determine whether or not the pothole breaches the intervention levels below:

  • For footways: 20mm vertical difference in surfaces in flagged footways, or a depression of 25mm over a 600mm length in any one direction.
  • For carriageways: 40mm deep and 300mm length in any one direction

“For your information, any defects that breach intervention levels and are identified will be repaired. Other defects that may be present but do not breach intervention levels will not be repaired."

4cms may not present a problem to motorists but, for cyclists, 4cms represents a genuine hazard.

Potholes – A Significant Danger to Cyclists

Potholes can violently unseat riders whose wheels hit any hole that is sufficiently large or deep enough. Cyclists could also be struck by vehicles directly behind if they have to suddenly swerve to avoid any approaching pothole.

Potholes can cause serious life-changing injuries to cyclists and incidents involving potholes currently account for an estimated 10-15% of all cycling accidents. As such, it is crucial that highway authorities do what the 1980 Highways Act obliges them to do: maintaining the road properly.

So, When Does a Local Authority Repair a Pothole?

Unfortunately, councils up and down the country often fail to agree on this.

In Gloucestershire, a hole in the road must be as deep as ‘a golf ball’ (1.6”, 40mm) and as wide as a ‘large dinner plate’ (11.8”, 300mm) before it is deemed as a pothole. Worcestershire county council will accept a smaller ‘dinner plate’ wide hole (7.9”, 200mm) but require the hole to be as deep as a "fist" (1.6”).

Coventry council specifies that a priority pothole must be as deep as ‘a pound coin and a 1p coin side by side’ (1.6”) – Suffolk county council agree with Gloucestershire on how wide a serious pothole must be unless the defect is on a minor road, when it must be the size of a ‘dustbin lid’ (23.6”, 600mm) to warrant urgent action.

In Bath and North East Somerset, a defect in the road only needs to be 1.2” (30mm) deep before it counts as a pothole, whereas in Hounslow, traffic officers will repair potholes on residential streets only if they meet ‘intervention levels’ of 3” (75mm) in depth. By contrast, Herefordshire council states it will ‘record and treat all potholes, regardless of depth’.

Councils are legally obliged under the Highways Act 1980 to maintain roads and footpaths within their boundaries, except for trunk roads which are maintained by the Highways Agency. Section 58 of the Act, however, provides a defence where the highway authority can show it took reasonable care to ensure the highway was not hazardous to users.

If you’re involved in a cycling accident caused by a pothole or similar defect in the road you may be entitled to compensation for any injuries and financial losses such as damage to your bike.

However, your legal rights may not be as clear-cut as you think. Councils do not have a duty to know about and repair every defect in the road. Instead, they must operate an adequate system of inspection and maintenance. This means they may not automatically be liable if they had no prior knowledge of any pothole that causes you to crash.

This is why it is so important for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians alike to report existing potholes to their local highways authority or council.

By ensuring your local authority is aware of any defects on the road, it becomes easier to establish any neglect of duty to adequately maintain the road.

If, however, they are notified of potholes through a reporting site, they are then obliged to repair the hazards and become automatically liable if someone subsequently injures themselves as a consequence.

What Should You Do If You Have an Accident Caused By a Pothole?

If you do happen to suffer a cycling accident due to a pothole there are a number of steps you should take. These include:

  • noting the location and dimensions of the hole including its depth as well as its position in the road in relation to the kerb.
  • photograph the pothole including a sense of scale, for example by placing a 50p coin on its side inside the hole. Take multiple photos to indicate where the pothole is in relation to any reference points.
  • taking pictures of any damage sustained to your bike and any injuries you may have suffered.
  • reporting the hole to the local highways authority, or council. You can report potholes to the council directly, or via the National Cycling Charity CTC's Fill That Hole website which also allows you to upload photos, provide details of injuries and damage and record the exact geographical location of your accident.

Paul Kitson is Slater and Gordon’s Principal Lawyer for the CTC, the UK’s national cycling charity.

At Slater and Gordon, we regularly pursue claims for CTC members who have suffered injuries due to potholes and road defects.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have secured more than £40 million in compensation for CTC Members who have been injured in cycling accidents since 2002.

For a free consultation or to claim compensation for cycling accident injuries, call our specialist Cycling Accident Solicitors 24/7 on freephone 0808 175 8105 or contact us online and we will call you.

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