The biking season coincides with the Councils ‘top dressing’ the carriageways. This is a process by which the top 30 to 50mm of the road surface is replaced with small granite chippings.
The top layer of a road is designed to slowly wear away. Bitumen binds together gravel chippings and the bitumen, which is intrinsically soft, wears away leaving loose gravel. In order to elongate the life of the roads a superbly bike unfriendly method is used to replace this top wearing course.
At its most basic tonnes of gravel chippings are rolled into the road, raw and without binding agent which creates a hellish surface for just about any hike, with the possible exception of an endure bike on knobblies. If you hit this stuff and you brake or steer you can reasonably expect the worst to happen.
So how can you ride and the Councils keep the roads serviceable?
There is clear guidance as to signage, sweeping, advisory speed limits and reopening any stretch of road which has been top dressed. If these were all adhered to top dressing would be safe, but these jobs are carried out by cash strapped Councils and private contractors on tight time schedules so with alarming frequency the roads are left with a thick coating of loose gravel. The law is on the motorcyclist’s side on this one, but you need to be able to prove the presence of a dangerous accumulation of gravel. Your mobile phone at this point is your best friend.
Take photos, and if you can, drag your foot through the accumulated gravel on a video clip which demonstrates the nature of the gravel. Do take away as big a sample as you can carry of the material, because it is easy to prove the material is granite road chippings, because they are of a particular size, consistency and material. Proving a sample is road chippings is straightforward for a forensic geologist and such a trade does exist!
Councils and their lawyers rarely deny loose gravel is a danger for motorcyclists and there are numerous published works which confirm this. If you can prove it’s gravel you can show that the works constitute what in law is a public nuisance on the highway. There are chapters in law books as to the varying degrees of nuisance but at its simplest, if you put something dangerous on the highway and somebody hurts themselves as a result thereof, you are liable.
When I bring these claims there is always a second string which is that the Council is in breach of its statutory duty to maintain the highway so that it is reasonably safe for all persons that might he expected to use the highway. However, these cases do not turn on law. The law is simple and settled. These cases turn on evidence and if you can prove significant amounts of loose chippings you are a long way home to proving your case.
Bike Magazine October 2017