A gritty problem: motorist sues Highway Agency
From the Telegraph 10/11/09:
A motorist who spent two days on a life support machine after crashing on black ice is suing the Highways Agency for failing to grit the road properly.
The 47-year-old man, who is a member of the Royal Navy, sustained serious injuries after his car was involved in a three-vehicle collision at Trewint, near Launceston, Cornwall on Jan 21.
He spent three weeks in hospital and is still suffering health problems as a result of the crash.
The victim, from Liskeard, Cornwall, was one of 30 drivers whose cars crashed on a 40-mile stretch of the A30, which runs running from Okehampton in Devon to Bodmin, Cornwall.
No motorist has mounted a successful claim against the agency.
While minor roads are the responsibility of local authorities, the burden of maintaining trunk routes rests with the Highways Agency.
The accident took place more than a week before Britain was hit by the worst blizzards in decades, which led to a shortage of grit and salt throughout the country.
A Highways Agency spokesman said salt was aid on the road earlier in the day, it was washed away by showers. Then the temperature dropped freezing the surface water.
"We can't predict what the weather's going to be like just after it's been gritted, that's life. And even when roads are gritted, it's not magic - drivers still need to take a great deal of care."
While road users all owe a duty of care to one another, there is also little doubt that those responsible for maintaining the safety of roads owe a similar duty to those who use them. Both rock salt and grit are fickle substances and although excellent at preventing the icing-up of roads, are highly susceptible to being washed away by a simple rain shower.
Localised squalls which can wash away certain patches of laid salt makes the decision to re-grit very difficult – particularly within the confines of a tight budget. The salt can also be worn away by unexpectedly high levels of traffic on certain stretches of road and suggesting that all roads must remain perfectly gritted at all times during cold weather is simply unrealistic. That said, major trunk roads should always be treated as a priority in respect of gritting and a cautious, ‘better safe than sorry’ approach is far better than a laissez-faire one.
Should the claim succeed of course, it could pave the way for further action against the Highways Agency. Whether, though, within the confines of limited budgets, inaccurate weather reports and good old mother nature at her unpredictable best, the nation’s roads become any safer as a result of a humble personal injury case is another matter all together.