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The Nitty Gritty of Icy Highways

13th December 2017
Expert advice on use of winter tyres from an insurance perspective

It’s about this time of year when we’re skirting around treacherous conditions and asking “why hasn’t this been gritted?!”

The confusion arises around obligations and responsibilities on an annual basis, with warnings that you could be sued as an individual or company for helpfully gritting a patch near you but not doing a good enough job.

So with who does the responsibility for keeping roads and pavements ice free lie, and to what extent?

Who’s in charge of gritting the roads?
Local and county councils are responsible for nine out of every 10 miles of road – almost of quarter of a million miles of roads around the UK.

The Highways Agency is in charge of motorways and major A roads. However, due to the cost of covering every road, which would run into hundreds of millions, and the inaccessibility of some minor roads for the gritting lorries, less than half of these roads are covered.

To make up some ground, local authorities provide local grit bins for residents to attend to their surrounding streets and farmers to help clear areas around them.

What does the law say?
Section 41 (1A) of the Highways Act 1980 (England and Wales) says that “a highway authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.”

The “reasonably practical” is the reason why not all roads are gritted – as the resources needed are beyond what is available.

On the 14h November, 1991, Mr Goodes skidded on an icy road in the village of Mayfield East Sussex, leading to life-changing injuries. The accident happened at 7.10am, and the gritting lorry was out at 7.30am, complying with their “Code of Good Practice which states that salting should be completed by this time in preparation for the morning rush hour.

In 2000, The House of Lords reversed a Court of Appeal decision that the Highways Authority’s obligation to maintain the highways extended to preventing ice forming on the road.

Snow needs only to be cleared if it’s causing an obstruction.

What about pavements?
Most pavements are the responsibility of the local council, as they’re classed as highways. But like the roads, they can’t all be addressed which is why you’ll see grit bins dotted around ready for a local resident or business to take the mantle. Pavements are treated depending on how frequently they’re used and by how many people.

Will I get sued if I do it myself?
Even if someone falls and hurts themselves on a path that you’ve cleared, as long as you’ve done so carefully, you’re unlikely to get sued. The only way for a case to hold weight would be if a court deemed the person clearing the path to be either “wholly incompetent” or “irresponsible” – otherwise Ministers have said that “public-spiritedness” and “common sense” should reign in such scenarios.

-ENDS-