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Coroner says pothole most likely cause of crash that led to cyclist's death, as DfT publishes review of problem

DfT's Potholes Review says prevention better than cure and that repairs should be got right first time...

A coroner’s inquest in South Wales has ruled that the death of a cyclist killed last year when he was flung into the path of an approaching car, apparently after hitting a pothole, was accidental. The verdict was announced in the same week that the Department for Transport (DfT) published the results of a year-long ‘Potholes Review.’

Swansea Coroner’s Court heard that Jason Price, aged 40, was riding on the A4118 near Nicholaston, Gower with a group of seven other cyclists when he lost control of his bike in April last year, reports BBC News.

Mr Price, who was from Swansea and worked as an export manager, suffered multiple injuries after being struck by an oncoming BMW being driven by part-time farmer Thomas Jenkins. The cyclist died at the scene.

"If was literally as if he had dived towards the front wheel of the car," explained Mr Jenkins. "Short of being somewhere else, there was absolutely nothing I could do."

The inquest was told that there were seven potholes within a 10-metre section of the road where the fatal incident occurred, and that one of those holes was deeper than is permitted under highway maintenance standards. However, a monthly visual inspection conducted in January 2011 on the stretch of road had not discovered any defects.

Antony Riley, who at the time of the incident that claimed Mr Price’s life had been senior highways inspector at Swansea Council, told the inquest that the road in question had been resurfaced less than two years beforehand.

According to Mr Riley, some of the potholes were “shallow” and he suggested that some may have occurred only in the days leading up to the fatal collision.

Coroner Phillip Rogers, recording a verdict of accidental death, said that the potholes or defects in the road were the most likely cause of the incident that led to Mr Price’s death.

"I think that, on the balance of probability, that Mr Price lost control of his bike either as a result of the wheel going into the defect or while trying to avoid it," he stated, adding that Mr Jenkins "had no chance whatsoever of avoiding the collision and I do not think that he did anything to contribute to it".

After the inquest, a spokesperson for Swansea Council spokesperson commented: "We will be considering the findings of the inquest but the coroner did say that it was hard to tell if our inspection regime was a contributory factor to the accident."

"We operate a road inspection system based on national guidelines and we also act on calls from members of the public who report road defects to us.

"There were no complaints about the accident location before this accident."

Mr Price’s death occurred at a time of year when damage to roads caused over the winter is often only just becoming apparent, and shows the importance of reporting any defects noticed via the CTC’s Fill That Hole website and app, which automatically notifies the appropriate highway authority so that the necessary action may be taken.

Earlier this week, the Department for Transport (DfT) published the results of a ‘Potholes Review’ ordered 12 months ago by Local Transport Minister Norman Baker which seeks to provide guidance to local authorities not only on how to remedy defects in the road surface in such a way that they do not recur, as well as looking at how they can be prevented from appearing in the first place.

According to the DfT, the recommendations contained in the review, made by central government, highways agencies and the highways sector, fall into three main areas:

  • Prevention is better than cure – intervening at the right time will reduce the amount of potholes forming and prevent bigger problems later.
  • Right First Time – do it once and get it right, rather than face continuous bills.
  • Clarity for the public – local highway authorities need to communicate to the public what is being done and how it is being done.

Commenting on the Review, a copy of which is attached below, Mr Baker said: “We all know the misery that potholes can cause to highway users and local communities and the recent series of harsh winters has only served to intensify the situation.

“We’ve given £3 billion to councils for road maintenance over the next four years but money can only go so far and the old adage rings true: prevention is indeed better than cure.

“I would urge all those involved with highways maintenance, including councillors, chief executives, local highway practitioners, those in the utility sector and contractors to adopt the approaches set out in this report, not only to make real cost savings but also to provide a high quality service that both the road user and local residents deserve.”

The Review was led by Matthew Lugg, President of the Association of Directors of Economy, Environment, Planning and Transport, who commented: “This Review has focused on key principles and strategies to reduce potholes in the future.

“There are a number of key recommendations, which when implemented by the highway sector will lead to more effective outcomes for the highway users and the economy.

“I would encourage all parties to take on board the recommendations. I am thankful for the help and assistance that was provided by colleagues from both the public and private sector including key stakeholder organisations,” he added.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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monty dog | 12 years ago

Trouble is, councils know they have a get-out of liability - it would only take one legal precedent for them to be confronted with responsibility. Last two road races I've ridden, I've broken a carbon rim due to striking the edge of potholes - when in the middle of a bunch with riders either side there's little you can do.

Alan Tullett | 12 years ago

It shows you how careful you have to be going down a hill fast, especially with the current state of the roads. It may well be that the other cyclists obscured his view of the road and this didn't give him enough time to take safe action to avoid the potholes.

Odd that non of the cycling witnesses statements reported, just the driver and a guy who wasn't even there.

Presumably the other cyclists just corroborated the basic story and the 'guy who wasn't even there' is in charge of maintaining the roads. In a train accident case you would expect the chief engineer to be there to explain what had gone wrong, (Hatfield etc.), so it's hardly surprising the senior highways inspector was there.

Angelfishsolo | 12 years ago

I would not place much faith in the reporting system. I first reported a very dangerous pothole to my LA back in 2007. It was only after I had an off then trashed a front wheel did I phone them again about it and lo and behold they had no record of any report about it! After threatening legal action it was eventually filled in late 2011!

WolfieSmith | 12 years ago

Odd that the 'monthly' inspection for January is clear yet no subsequent inspections in Feb/March are mentioned? Those 7 potholes must have opened very quickly...  39

My local area now seems to operate on a system of following a schedule of their own and only breaking that schedule if the public put a hazard on record. I've seen a tree base re-Tarmaced right next to a junction littered with holes.

Councils are using a new thin skim glue 'microtarmac' as a cheap fix. It bonds over quick hole fills giving a new surface in large sections for it's a cheap option that wears out very quickly. You can feel all the same holes through the saddle very well even though the road looks new.

OldRidgeback | 12 years ago

A good deal of the pothole problem we suffer in the UK can be laid fairly and squarely at the door of road authorities who still use old-fashioned surfacing technology. Combined with lowest cost tendering that encourages the cheapest (and lowest quality working) plus a rush to use budgets before the financial year end (use it or lose it) which results in paving being carried out in winter when surfaces cool too fast to be compacted, and we get more than our fair share of problems. A busy road near where I live has just been resurfaced again just two years after it was done last time because the previous cheap mill and fill job didn't last, which comes as no surprise to anyone who knows about road construction. The new surface was again done cheaply. Ok, so doing it cheaply cost half as much as having a proper job, but that proper job would last 10 (at least) years instead of just two. In other words, the council has paid just as much for a road surface lasting four years that it would for a surface lasting at least 10. Add to that a lack of infra red heating systems to prevent the joint failures that cause 80-90% of surface failures and a naivete amongst road authorities over the cost benefits of in-situ road recycling (they've twigged to it in Enfield but not many other UK councils have) and it's clear that there is a lot of needless waste of resources that results in crappy road surfaces that are potentially dangerous to road usres, as the results of this accident suggests.

antonio | 12 years ago

Odd that non of the cycling witnesses statements reported, just the driver and a guy who wasn't even there.

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