It was also under a canopy of trees, so there was some leaf mould on the road surface. I suppose I was paying too much attention to the poor-quality, slippery surface, because the T-junction at the bottom of the hill took me by surprise.

As I got hard on the brakes, the ABS cut in, I overshot the junction and was hit by a car – luckily, it was all pretty lowspeed but I got clattered off the bike. My protective kit did its job, but much of it is beyond repair and my bike suffered nearly three grand’s worth of damage. It’s going to be an expensive day out.

I accept that the car driver did nothing wrong, but do I have a claim against the local council? There were no ‘slow’ signs painted on the road. There was a give-way sign right on the junction and another on the approach to it that was covered in green tree mould and pollen, and partially obscured by thick foliage. It wasn’t completely invisible but neither was it particularly obvious. The road markings at the junction were almost totally worn away.

I wrote to the council, setting out my losses and the reasons why I held them accountable. I got a very curt letter back that basically told me to sod off. Is there anything I can hope for?


Sorry, but I have no good news for you. The local authority has no obligation to put up warning signs or to paint anything on the road. The give-way sign was there. The fact that there were no warning signs in place usually means the road is not an accident blackspot but, even if it were, there is still no obligation for the council to put up warning signs. The council has the power, at its discretion, to put up warning signs but it has no legal duty to do so.

On a tiny county road joining a relatively low-use B-road, it is not unreasonable for a council to treat this as a relatively low-priority road. The council’s letter that you forwarded to me is standard but their explanation of the law is standard and not really applicable to your case. It is a standard ‘pothole’ defence letter. Your attempted claim is a failure to deploy signs.

It is settled law in England and Wales that the local authority has no liability for the ‘topography’ of the road, so the fact that it is a difficult bit of road to ride neither increases nor decreases the council’s responsibilities.

The single give-way sign – which, on the photographs you also attached, is clearly visible – is sufficiently obvious for you to have noticed it.

However, even if there had been no signs or lines, it is the duty of a road user to proceed only when it is safe to do so. There are a number of old cases – still good law today – that say, in the absence of any road markings or give-way signs, it is the responsibility of road users to negotiate their way around each other. The facts of your case mean that any claim you may bring would certainly fail.

The small residual area of arguable law, around the council being held liable for signage being wholly unreasonable, is simply not up for any sort of argument in your case. There was a give-way sign in place, it was clearly visible and – unfortunately for you – you missed it. There was an earlier sign, which clearly had the upside down triangle shape of a give-way sign. It’s the only road sign that has this shape, for precisely this reason. These signs can be covered in snow, leaf mould or graffiti, and are still obvious just by their shape.

Thank goodness you weren’t seriously injured but your bike damage is one for your fully-comp insurers to deal with. You’ve already lost your no claims discount. The vehicle that hit you was a pretty fancy car with a lot of electrical expense in the bumper, so the driver’s claim will not be modest.

Please do yourself a favour – don’t write to the council again. They have better things to do than deal with claims that have no chance of success.

Andrew Dalton

RiDE Magazine – September 2023