Icy roads and the law

Following a landmark House of Lords decision (Goodes v East Sussex [2000] for law geeks) Parliament amended the Highways Act to place a duty upon Councils to control and manage ice and snow on the roads.

The law is that all public roads in England and Wales are maintained by a Highway Authority. The Highway Authority must maintain the roads so that they are safe.

The usual Highway Authority is the Council, albeit for trunk roads and motorways it is the Department of Transport. The Council must “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along the highway is not endangered by snow or ice”.

The form of words is very important as it means that if you fall off in icy conditions, then the Council has to prove that it made reasonable efforts to keep the roads free from ice. If, like me, when the temperature drops below freezing the bike stays in, then the same rules apply to car drivers.

So in a nutshell, if you slide on ice, you must prove that there was ice on the road and it caused you to slide which is not a particularly difficult thing to prove especially on a motorcycle. Basically if you can prove ice was there by eye witnesses, phone camera shots or police reports then you have proved both ice and Judges know ice is slippery.

The Council then has to prove that it took reasonable steps to keep the roads safe, which in reality means producing their ice plan, their meteorological reports and most importantly the guy who actually drove the gritter truck, who can say where he drove it.

A Judge then decides if the system is reasonable and that it has been carried out. Whilst it is no defence in law for the Council to say “we didn’t have enough money” Judges are sympathetic to Councils who run the argument that reasonableness means that if they spend excessive money on ice treatment, they can’t spend it on social workers for abused children or all the other necessary things Councils do with restricted budgets.

Judges do not expect Councils to have fleets of trucks to be deployed to cover every road in a County on permanent standby, especially as a gritter truck costs over £100,000. So if you have an icy slide on a minor country road, in my view most Judges would find a failure to grit such a lane reasonable. Whilst we have won these cases, they are an uphill struggle. If you are not injured and you are fully comprehensively insured, I would leave your repairs to your own insurers.

For our Scottish readers, your law is different so this is really aimed at English and Welsh riders. Because I practice the law in England and Wales it is dangerous for me to get involved in Scottish law.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine January 2015

Posted by Andrew Dalton. Posted on: February 12, 2015 at 12:00 am

Andrew Dalton is a highly experienced trial lawyer who delights in taking on difficult and demanding motorcycle cases. He has a tough and relentless litigation style and is utterly focused on getting the best possible outcomes for his clients.