These calls will mostly bemoan what might seem like a freak accident, but it happens more than you might think, and will doubtlessly involve a Christmas tree ham-fistedly tied to the roof of a car. The result? The rider has come to grief either from trying to avoid the tree, or hitting the tree under braking.

Rarely are these collisions serious and generally speaking they are easy enough to deal with. If the driver stops, their insurer picks up the tab. If the driver drives off your vehicle repairs are dealt with by your insurer or if you are third party, the Motor Insurers Bureau as it is self evidently an accident arising out of the use of a vehicle on the road.


But what is new and rather trickier is the relatively recent Halloween ‘tradition’ of putting pumpkin Jack-o’-lantems outside your home as a welcome sign for kids to come trick or treating.

It is almost inevitable that some of these pumpkins will find their way onto the carriageway, whether by rolling or being kicked about by bored youths. Hitting a pumpkin on a dark road in late autumn is a pretty obvious risk to the stability of your motorcycle. But the law is simple enough: if you place something on the highway which might foreseeably cause harm to a road user, then you are liable.

This law goes back to the early Middle Ages and there is an old authority from the 1930s that made a pork butcher liable to a person who slipped on a lump of pork fat dropped some distance from his shop, the judge assuming a customer had dropped this and determining the butcher had not properly wrapped the lump of fat. I am far from sure such a case would get very far today.

Don’t carry weight

Old authorities on odd points of law don’t really carry much weight. The real problem is traceability. Who put the pumpkin on the highway? If you cannot answer that question, then you really have no recourse.

Also if it transpires the pumpkin was properly and safely displayed and some local Herbert decided to put it in the road, then there is the long established defence of’the intervention of a mischievous third party’ – the same defence as would be successfully used by a utility provider who has to dig up a road, puts barriers and beacons all around the hole and the local student body decides that their halls need these beacons and barriers more than the hole in the road and wander back to halls with building stuff.

In English law, if you cannot prove who the wrong doer is, and the harm does not arise from the use of a vehicle in an area to which the public have access, then you have no remedy.

If you are a pumpkin enthusiast such an object left out for Halloween is unlikely to get you into bother, but leaving a pumpkin on a highway, unlit, would leave you liable to a claim if a person came to be harmed by slipping upon it. Provided someone could work out where it came from.

Andrew Dalton

Bike Magazine March 2023