The first fall of snow of 2013 brings a timely reminder for motorists of the dangers of cold weather driving. Headlines about pothole epidemics and blocked roads are in abundance. The combination of snow, slush and ice warrants extra caution from drivers as vehicles become more susceptible to hitting potholes or sliding off the main road.
With road traffic accidents rising during the winter period, more motorists are likely to bring a claim against their local highway authority for failing to maintain deteriorating roads.
Highway authorities’ duty to maintain roads
According to section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, highway authorities have a statutory duty to maintain roads and take reasonable steps to ensure passages are safe and not endangered by snow or ice.
Local highway authorities usually have internal policies (such as regular inspection of the roads and timely repair of defects) which they must comply with in order to meet their statutory duties.
What chance of successfully bringing a claim against the highway authority?
Motorists can rely on section 41 to bring claims against their local highway authority for damage caused to their vehicles if the authority has failed to comply with its duties. However, bringing a successful claim can be difficult for the following reasons:
- Highway authorities have a statutory defence under section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. If they can prove that they took reasonable care to ensure the road was not dangerous for traffic and they complied with internal policies, they might not be liable for the damage caused.
- Case law shows that a successful claim can potentially be overshadowed by a hefty reduction in compensation if the claimant was aware of the road defect or was speeding.
- Many highway authorities have low budgets. Maintaining the roads can be a difficult and expensive process and courts may take this into consideration.
- Litigation itself can be a costly and time-consuming option for motorists.
Practical measures to help avoid danger
With these issues in mind, motorists are therefore best advised to take extra care on the roads. The Institute of Advanced Motorists recommends driving at a speed which allows you to have sufficient control of the vehicle, increasing your normal stopping distance, allowing extra time for travel and using the main roads (which are more likely to have been maintained). It is also a legal requirement to be able to see out of your front windows, windscreen and wing mirrors and to keep lights clear. By taking a few precautionary steps, motorists can help avoid litigation costs and stay safer this winter.
If you would like to discuss a potential claim or have a claim you need assistance with, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can help you. Please contact Sarah Vincent by email email@example.com or by telephone 020 7611 4848.