The perils of surface dressing for those on 2 wheels

A701 - Devil's BeeftubWhilst out for a run on my motorcycle last weekend, I came across two sections of road which had recently been surface dressed; on the Beef Tub (A701) 3 miles north of Moffat and also 5 miles East on the A703 heading towards the Glen Cafe.

In both cases, the correct signage appeared to be in place notifying me in advance of what to expect. However, that did not make negotiating my path any easier as I tried to avoid having to cross the loose gravel which had piled up at both the side of the road and also between the tyre tracks forged out by the cars and lorries. Over the last couple of days on social media, I have read various comments from other bikers who also experienced surface dressing on the roads over the weekend commenting just how treacherous and potentially dangerous it can be for motorcyclists. I am sure I am speaking for all motorcyclists when I say that we would rather have decent road surfaces without potholes or uneven reinstatements but the one consistent comment seems to be, "why don’t they sweep the roads and remove the loose gravel?” With that in mind, I had a look to see what the code of practice for sweeping at surface dressing sites was.

A document published by the Road Surface Dressing Association and the County Surveyors’ Society following consultation with Transport Scotland and other regional agencies states:

  • No road which has been surface dressed should be re-opened to traffic travelling at normalSkid Risk 20mph sign speeds limited only by national or local speed limits until it has been swept. 
  • Loose chipping signs with 20 mph advisory sub-plates should remain in place and be maintained until such time as all surplus chippings have been removed from the surface. 
  • The period of time during which loose chipping signs will need to remain in position will depend largely on the type of dressing and the volume of traffic. 
  • Regular inspections by installer’s representative should be carried and sweeps organised as necessary on the basis of the following guidelines: 
    1st Sweep within 24 hours of installation
    2nd Sweep within 3 days of installation
    3rd Sweep within 10 days of installation 

  • The aftercare signage should be maintained until a “final” inspection had been carried out either jointly by the installer/client or by a nominated competent person. 
  • The final inspection should be carried out within 30 days of installation. 
  • A satisfactory final inspection is the point at which the Highway/Road Authority resumes responsibility for the site. 
  • All signs used must be made of retro-reflective materials to comply with Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002 Schedule 17.

My experience at the weekend also reminded me of a case I won for a client a couple of years ago. The incident took place on the A93 Glenshee to Braemar Road. Weather conditions were good and the road surface dry. The motorcyclist recalled going into a right-hand bend and then his motorcycle lost all grip on the road due to the presence of loose stone chips over both sides of the carriageway.

He recalled seeing one sign warning of loose chippings but that was all. Aberdeenshire Council had carried out road surfacing works by spray patching at the bend shortly before the accident. The Police who attended the scene of the accident were so concerned about the state of the road and the possibility of another accident they called for the road to be swept and further signage erected.

Loose chippings caseI carried out extensive investigations including calling on the Roads Authority to produce documents under FOI to include details of road surfacing repairs, the type of application material and quantity used, the method of application, details of sweeping and details of all signage. I spoke to numerous witnesses and the police officers. Based on the evidence ingathered, I was satisfied the Council had been negligent.

Despite presenting the case and the evidence, liability was denied by the Council’s insurers. Faced with a denial, the only way to recover compensation for the motorcyclist was to raise a Court Action. Because of the serious nature of the injuries, I raised the case in the highest civil court in Scotland, The Court of Session, and enlisted the help of experienced Counsel who also happened to be a keen motorcyclist.

We set out our case arguing that road patching had been carried out shortly before the accident and those works involved a warm bitumen spray patching technique. There were no adequate warning signs to provide sufficient notice to road users of the presence of loose stone chips on the bend in the road and no adequate warning signs to reduce speed. Such signs as were present were substantially incorrect, were too close to the works and provided inadequate warning of the works that had taken place and the road conditions ahead.

No adequate steps had been taken by the Council to sweep or clear the loose stone chips from the bend on the road in the period preceding the accident.  It would have been easy for the Council to put adequate warning signs in place and to sweep the loose stone chips off the road surface.

In response to our Court Action, liability was again denied and the Defender stated the motorcyclist caused or materially contributed to the accident. He had a duty to drive his vehicle with reasonable care and failed to do so. He failed to keep his vehicle under proper control.

The case was then set down for a Court Hearing. We were well prepared and had even instructed an expert civil engineer from the Transport Research Laboratory who supported our case confirming, in his opinion, even small amounts of loose chippings on a bend were particularly hazardous to motorcyclists given the inherent instability of a motorcycle negotiating a bend.

On the evening before the case was due to be heard, an offer was made on a full liability basis and the case was settled with the motorcyclist recovering £22,500 for his injuries and loss. He was delighted with the result.

It is common for insurers representing Roads Authorities to deny claims for damages arising from road works and, in particular, the presence of loose stone chippings. It’s important for any motorcyclist to take images of a road surface defect that causes a sudden loss of control and if you can’t, then get a mate to do so or ask the Police.

So, my advice to all bikers is, observe national speed limits, watch out for signage, observe and adapt to the different road conditions, keep a good distance from the vehicle in front to avoid being hit by loose stones, chose a lane and try and stick to it until you reach a better road surface.

Brenda's Signature

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