I was riding home from work, just as the clocks were changing in late autumn last year. In the dark and rain, I collided with a very large tractor, which had a very large trailer.
Before you instantly say it was my fault, let me give the details. The tractor was one of these giant ones, it had a flashing orange beacon on the roof but really narrow headlights – not much wider than twin headlights on a Blade or Gixxer. The tyres were massively wide and, unsurprisingly, black. There was some light, but not much, and I was riding in heavy rain.
The tractor and I approached each other in a straight line; I was coming down hill and could see the lights and the beacon. The tractor driver must have been able to see me. I have a good LED headlight on my bike. Because this case is ongoing, I do not want to identity myself or my bike.
The tractor was moving fast for a tractor – probably about 40mph. I was riding downhill, at about 50-60mph in a 60mph zone. As we got close to each other, I moved over a bit.
Witnesses say I was quite close to the white central line. I reckon I was in my usual position, about one-third near the white line. It’s a beat-up country road and I live in a rural area. In October the farmers are busy dragging mud all over the road, so I tend to stay closer to the middle.
Then bang. My right hand hit a giant tyre and I got spat off. My hand was actually okay but I did myself quite a selection of injuries as I landed. The lad in the tractor told the police he’d been working since first light and this was his last journey of the day, so I reckon he’d done about 11 hours of solid driving. He really should not have been driving for 11 hours straight.
He was a subcontractor from Ireland. I get the impression he was not trying to cover his boss or his insurance because he was just a subbie doing a job on someone else’s insurance. He told the police his speed was about 40mph and that he could see me. and that he expected me to move to my left and when I didn’t, he knew there would be a collision. He confirmed to the police that my speed was “just fine, but he should have moved”.
My own solicitors have binned the case, telling me it has no prospects, I think a really wide vehicle that overhangs both sides of a carriageway needs to be driven with a lot more care than this tractor was. Do you think I have a case?
This is a tough one and honestly I can see it going only two ways – either you will lose altogether or you will go down with a lot of the blame. If you are lucky. I think lose altogether is the more likely outcome.
The insurers are big agricultural insurers who will fight a case to trial if they reckon they are in with a good shout of winning – and they are in with a good shout.
The law is simple enough. You as a rider need to be alert and be able to deal with foreseeable hazards. This includes large agricultural vehicles being driven on country roads. The tractor was displaying a beacon and you knew it was there. You got the width of the tractor wrong. The tractor was entitled to be on the road. It was displaying the lights it is obliged to display.
You rode in beyond what your headlights illuminated and there was plenty of room for each of you to pass each other. The tractor drove in a straight line; it was wider than its lane with massive tyres, but it needs them to do farming-type things. At the risk of stereotyping farmers, they don’t spend money on super-wide wheels unless they need them.
The Judge, because his case will go to trial with these insurers, will have to determine whether the tractor driver was negligent at all for driving a big agricultural vehicle down an unclassified but straight minor county road. There is no negligence in that. Was his lighting negligent? No – it met the regulations. Did he drive negligently? No – he drove in a straight line.
This was a two-vehicle collision. One driver was driving a big vehicle in a straight line. The other vehicle was you, on your bike, who, upon seeing the tractor, did not move to the left far enough and hit a tractor tyre, probably on your side of the road. The fact your vision was compromised by the dark and the rain means you are the one who needed to slow down to keep a look-out.
I think your solicitors are right to stop acting on a no-win, no-fee. Your case is very difficult to win. I think you would lose in front of most Judges, and a case called Sprake v Arnott will almost certainly be cited, in which the Court of Appeal told all other Judges to keep a level of reasonableness as to the duties of agricultural vehicles, saying (and I summarise): “If you ride on country roads, expect country things” – which does include very large vehicles.
Fast Bikes December 2021