The attraction of technically challenging tarmac is catnip to most riders. A new twisty road, with some nice black top and the little black and white chevrons is an invitation for riders to play.
But what happens when the disappearing apex isn’t signposted and you overcook a bend which disappears into itself when you’re riding at a pace where your skills are outstripped by a sneaky deviation? If you cannot ride out of it, and it all goes wrong, can the law help you?
In short, not really. The Highway Authority has the power to erect warning signs but no duty. In English law in order to bring a negligence claim there has to be a duty, otherwise there can be no breach of duty. If there is no duty you do not get past first base.
The law In England and Wales, unlike most of the rest of Europe takes, a ‘look after yourself approach’. Crudely summed up the law is ‘you can see the road, it is not going anywhere, so it is up to you how to ride it’.
The case law is tough. Highway Authorities have been sued every which way to try and get round their power to erect warning signs, but this power does not come with a duty. The Highway Authority can be liable if it designs a dangerous road, but where a road has been adopted over time, its twists and turns are not down to the Highway Authority, but down to history, land ownership and local geography.
The law does not place a duty upon the Highways Authority to tell you what a road looks like. If you cannot see what is round the next corner, or cannot see your way through the next bend then the law says, fairly enough, ride at whatever pace is suitable for what is an as yet unseen road layout.
It will get you nowhere in front of a Judge to say that there were 12 bends which were chevroned and peppered with sharp deviation warnings but the one bend, the one you overcooked, was not so warned, even if it was sharper or tighter than the 12 others which were chevroned.
It is one of the most common single bike collisions which I see, and almost without fail I cannot help the injured rider involved when it’s the result of overcooking a corner. What is peculiar is quite frequently these are not even especially demanding bends. The common factors are panic braking and overrun when the rider fails to take the corner.
It also is not just novice riders that fail to make bends. It is usually a loss of concentration, and in my experience group riding tends to be a factor. If there is a pattern, it tends to be either at the beginning of a group ride, before riders have got their eye in or at the end of a spirited ride when tiredness sets in.
In short, if you finish up in a ditch because you have not made a completely unsigned hairpin bend, while you might have a justlfled sense of grievance that the road should have been signposted you will have no cause of action in English and Welsh law.
Bike Magazine July 2017