Gutter politics

NB: Slots aren't in line with road
Brompton caught in a road drain
Brompton caught in a road drain

Gutter politics

Earlier this year, I crashed while riding a Brompton bike on a busy main road in Nottingham, as a result of the bike’s front wheel getting caught in a drain. I was fortunate to receive only bruising and a smashed wristwatch, having fallen over the handlebar. I attach a photo, taken a week later, illustrating the depth to which such a bike’s wheel can sink in this drain. The drain is just across the road from one of Nottingham’s Brompton dealers, so I am unlikely to be the only Brompton rider to use this stretch of highway. The council denies responsibility for the crash. As a result, the drain will remain as it is. Another Brompton rider might not be so lucky. Is there any way to exert legal pressure on the council to change the drain cover?

Graham Lansdell

Whilst it is unfortunate that your bicycle wheel was caught in between the gaps in the drain pictured, it seems from the letter you sent as if the council has provided a reasonable justification for denying liability in this particular case.

The council states that the drain is designed in a way to allow cyclists and other oncoming traffic to travel safely over the feature whilst following thenormal direction of the road. This allows for effective drainage along the sloped road. If the council were to change this, its reply says, the road may become more liable to flooding and, as a result, this would increase the risk to road users, including cyclists.

The council is responsible for the maintenance and repair of public roads and it relies on the public to report any faults so they can be investigated. The council also has a duty to carry out regular checks/inspections, which are usually more frequent if the road is busy, such as those around town or city centres.

On this occasion, the council will no doubt allege that the drain cover was not defective and has been properly maintained. For an actionable claim, one would have to show that this design of drain is particularly dangerous and the cause of numerous accidents/injuries. Section 67 of the Highway Code also states that cyclists should look well ahead for obstructions such as drains and parked vehicles.

That being said: if you come across a drain that is damaged, a pothole, or other significant road defect, then you may indeed have a legitimate complaint. Cycling UK has a website dedicated to reporting road defects, so if you see something that you would like to bring to your local council’s attention, go to fillthathole.org.uk. Alternatively, most local councils offer their own forms to report these defects. Furthermore, if you sustain a significant injury as a result, then you should contact the Cycling UK Incident Line: 0844 736 8452.

Richard Gaffney

Principal Lawyer, Slater + Gordon Lawyers

This Q&A was published in 'Cycle' the magazine for members of Cycling UK. To contact the experts, email your technical, health, legal or policy questions to editor@cyclinguk.org or write to Cycle Q&A, PO Box 313, Scarborough, YO12 6WZ

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