Coroner: "No doubt" that pothole caused crash that killed cyclist

Inquest hears police reported pothole to N Yorks council 5 weeks before fatal incident but nothing done despite 2 inspections

by Simon_MacMichael   March 6, 2014  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

A coroner has said he has no doubt that a pothole that went unrepaired for five weeks after police alerted North Yorkshire County Council to it was to blame for the death of a cyclist who was thrown from his bike into the path of a car.

Martyn Uzzell from Somerset, aged 51, was taking part in a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride for charity when he was killed in the incident on the A65 Settle Bypass at Giggleswick in June 2011, reports the Yorkshire Post.

His two riding companions, one of whom was his brother-in-law, avoided the pothole, which was 10cm deep and surrounded a drain cover. But it is thought that Mr Uzzell hit it, causing him to lose control of his bike.

The cyclist was killed instantly when he was hit by a Volkswagen Golf travelling in the opposite direction.

North Yorkshire coroner Rob Turnbull said in a narrative verdict at Skipton Coroner's Court that he had “no doubt whatsoever that the condition of the road on that occasion was the cause of the accident”.

He went on: “It is my opinion based on the balance of probability that this defect had existed for some time prior to the accident.

“It is not my opinion that it was a defect that had occurred very recently and it must have been some days since the defect was apparent.”

The inquest heard that the pothole had been spotted by a police officer on 11 May, who alerted his control room, who in turn told the council’s customer service team about the defect.

However, the operator failed to pass the message on to the council’s highways team.

The council did inspect the pothole on 13 May, apparently unconnected to that phone call from the police, but decided it did not need immediate attention.

There was one further inspection prior to the day of the fatal incident, but again no action was taken.

North Yorkshire County Council’s head of highway operations, Michael Roberts, told the inquest he would have been “astonished” if the defect had been in the same state of disrepair “for any length of time” prior to the incident that claimed Mr Uzzell’s life.

The coroner said that there was no way of knowing whether the pothole was on the same condition on May 11 as it had been on the day of the fatal incident.

Mr Uzzell’s wife of more than 20 years, Kate, said after the inquest: “It is simply disgraceful that a pothole on such a busy road was allowed to go unrepaired.

“The coroner clearly stated, in his opinion, that the pothole around the gulley is what caused Martyn to be thrown into the path of a car.

“The events of June 17, 2011, were deeply traumatic for our family. We lost a husband, a brother and a brother-in-law, a dear friend and a son. Martyn’s death was entirely avoidable.

“Yorkshire is hosting the Tour de France and hundreds of thousands of cyclists will be visiting the county.

“We hope the road network is maintained so there is no repeat,” Mrs Uzzell added [the road itself is not on the route of either of the two Yorkshire stages – ed].

A Crown Prosecution Service review of the case decided that there were no grounds for criminal prosecution against the council in relation to its alleged failure to repair the pothole.

30 user comments

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knowing what the Gloucestershire County Council definition of a defect is, i have no doubt that a) the hole existed b) the hole was potentially dangerous c) not big enough for the council to consider it a problem.

When councils are run by car drivers, no consideration is made to the safety of cyclists and motorcyclists. A "minor" defect in a car can be a huge defect for other road users!

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
5th March 2014 - 22:19

27 Likes

As usual the CPS decide it's not a case worth pursuing. Clearly not in the public interest this.

posted by IHphoto [112 posts]
5th March 2014 - 22:21

19 Likes

Agree with mrmo.

Its frankly disgraceful that the high n mighty Councils use there own powers against all when they can but the electorate have no persuation to the Council in reverse.

Our highway infrastructure is a crumbling mess leaving horrendous future problems to others.

We have roads in Plymouth repaired poorly only last year that are falling apart already. The roads are pretty much only being decorated at the moment.

We're all entitled to a reasonable opinion!

posted by Guyz2010 [291 posts]
5th March 2014 - 22:38

14 Likes

There are some enormous potholes in the bit of Yorkshire that I live in, a lot of them in cycle lanes making them off limits except for slow moving MTB's. I tend to ride very cautiously on roads that I am new to, especially where there is heavy traffic.
There has been some work on the TDF routes and I did wonder if that's where they are concentrating repairs, however, I noticed today lots of spray paint circles around the worst holes on the main road through the valley so maybe they are addressing the problem around these parts.
What it's like in other (heavily cut) regions I shudder to think.

posted by Leerf [8 posts]
5th March 2014 - 22:43

13 Likes

Folks, dont forget about the 'fill that hole' app. I use it regularly with good results. If you include a photo there is a record of its condition, you can track its degradation and update if nothing is done.

Round me (Newcastle-upon-tyne) ive seen the council respond well to reports, but if yours dont then at least there is a record of a report and its condition, so instances like this wont just be passed by in the future hopefully.

STATO's picture

posted by STATO [423 posts]
6th March 2014 - 0:03

13 Likes

Terribly sad.

Talking about those potholes circled by white spray paint in readiness for them being repaired. I've often wondered if you could get away with sneakily spraying around those holes that are deemed minor on the hope that they'd get filled in too.

posted by Jonny_Trousers [114 posts]
6th March 2014 - 0:25

19 Likes

It's got to be worth a try, for the sake of a couple of quid for a tin of spray paint.

Also it will help others to spot the hazard in time to avoid it.

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [605 posts]
6th March 2014 - 8:57

10 Likes

Whilst the criminal action against council officers for failures to fulfil statutory duties in repairing the road might be annoyingly side stepped, the damning evidence that nothing was done provides a strong case to take the council to the cleaners with a civil action, which is perhaps a better way to make then actually deal with the serious operational shortcomings that saw nothing being done in response to the Police and other reports.

Presumably we will also see the Coroner issuing a firmly worded PFD report identifying the Council's poor response to fixing road defects as an area of concern.

It must have been some crash from a road defect on one side of the carriageway to colliding with a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Stay safe

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [504 posts]
6th March 2014 - 9:08

20 Likes

I would tentatively suggest that the cause was a combination of the pothole and infrastructure which places cyclists next to fast busy motor traffic by default. Except that the latter is just taken for granted (in this country).

I'm guessing that in the Netherlands cycleways wouldn't be allowed to get in this state in the first place - not having heavy motor vehicles on them means they are less subject to damage. But even if you did hit a pothole and come off it's a lot less likely to be fatal.

Granted, physically separated cycleways across all out-of-town A-roads (like this one) is a big ask, but there are so many potholes in town at the moment - often flooded, and hence difficult to spot - it's lucky it doesn't happen more often.

RIP.

posted by pmanc [144 posts]
6th March 2014 - 9:32

10 Likes

....any XX millions of money the TdF is expected to bring in as tourism marked for cycling improvements? any TdF monies to get it in Yorkshire being spent on improving cycle ways and structure or just a nice smooth surface for the riders for a few days before everyone sits back and thing what a great job we did for tourist industry in yorkshire....we'll paint a white line or two in leeds and say we made a contribution to the cycling infrastructure.

the majority of Councillors and politicians and CPS type people in this country treat us like a JOKE, something to quickly be placated while spinning the Press with pie in the sky figures and one line nonsense.

posted by a_to_the_j [85 posts]
6th March 2014 - 10:08

13 Likes

Jonny_Trousers wrote:
Terribly sad.

Talking about those potholes circled by white spray paint in readiness for them being repaired. I've often wondered if you could get away with sneakily spraying around those holes that are deemed minor on the hope that they'd get filled in too.

Would recommend doing that - they mark them to say they are aware....at which point they become legally responsible for repairing them and any damage caused by not doing so - like this.
Imagine this case - council never made aware even though painted as some eejit done it themselves...no claim possible.
Dont do it.

posted by Farky [183 posts]
6th March 2014 - 11:01

6 Likes

Slightly off topic. If councils deny all responsibility with regards potholes until they have been told, would a blanket, "your roads are badly and every single one has a pothole" kind of letter surfice?

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [344 posts]
6th March 2014 - 12:10

11 Likes

scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

you use the roads, you wear out the roads, you pay for your use. No more paying into the big tax black hole. Road generated revenue for roads. this bollox about your co2 is tosh. Toyota Prius, what a joke, about as environmentally friendly as a Chernobyl fruit salad.

or just stick it on fuel and lets us ride for free.

'It's the closest you can get to flying'
Robin Williams response when asked why he enjoyed riding so much

posted by Simmo72 [397 posts]
6th March 2014 - 12:53

8 Likes

Simmo72 wrote:

or just stick it on fuel and lets us ride for free.

This.

Remove fixed costs from car ownership so it is much more pay per mile, it reduces the disincentive to use other means of travel. It makes those who drive most and by inference cause the most damage pay more.

I suppose one way to think of this, which is environmentally friendlier, a v12 Ferrari being driven 2000miles a year but at 15mpg, or a VW polo Bluemotion at 80mpg but driving 20,000miles per year. Which driver do you want to dissuade?

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
6th March 2014 - 13:11

6 Likes

Yorkshie Whippet wrote:
Slightly off topic. If councils deny all responsibility with regards potholes until they have been told, would a blanket, "your roads are badly and every single one has a pothole" kind of letter surfice?

Doesn't work like that, all councils must have an inspection regime in place, frequency determined by the roads usage, the council must also define what a defect is, this is a serious problem!!.

Basically one of the get out clauses is that the road was inspected and no fault found, everyone, I assume, accepts that potholes will happen and that sometimes there isn't really much the council can do to stop them happening. Hence why it is so important to tell councils if you see something, it could be months before the council's next inspection.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1366 posts]
6th March 2014 - 13:23

6 Likes

I was riding in Leicester, following a friend, in the dark, on a fast left hand bend at night when I suffered a double puncture and buckled front wheel. The cause was exactly the same as reported in the sad news of this cyclist. The hole and sunken drain cover had been missed by a council surveyor weeks before. I took photos and reported it the next time I road on same road (it was at night when the incident happened and despite walking back over the road could see nothing at the time) a few days later. It was repaired, very well, quickly once I'd done this. I sent my receipt and pictures again to the council as I thought they should pay or contribute towards the £95 repair bill
(two new tyres, inner tubes and wheel trued) I had, had to pay. They hid behind there legality (not being given the chance to repair the hole etc.) I asked for recent reports on the road. They sent.This showed the council surveyor had deemed it safe. Even to the untrained eye there was no way this hole had developed in a matter of weeks. No joy. On speaking to one of the office workers though I figured out the formula for compensation. If you have a similar accident? Have a friend report it, photos etc. Then report and make a claim almost immediately. Then as they've been given a "chance" to repair you may receive recompense. Ludicrous and of course little compensation if your dead. Why it the things we do to make us feel alive are the ones that can hasten our death?

posted by dog_film [8 posts]
6th March 2014 - 13:26

7 Likes

To add to mrmo, councils have a statutory duty to maintain and repair the highway so that it's safe and fit for purpose. Problem is they can hide behind a defence provided by s.58 of the Highways Act which allows them to escape liability for damage or injury caused by a road defect if they can prove they had a reasonable inspection and repair regime in place. I'm currently in pre-litigation argument with a rural council about a huge pothole that caused damage to my car (buckled wheel, bent wishbones) - far less important than personal injury or death as in this case, but the principle is the same. The reasonable inspection and repair regime is the problem. You need quite a bit of evidence to show that the council was not reasonable (pre-existing defect that they had knowledge of, inspection regime below the national recommended guidelines are good evidence). Not surprising that the CPS don't see evidence to mount a criminal prosecution, but a civil action has clear grounds.

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
6th March 2014 - 14:01

10 Likes

Sadly, I think there are going to be lots more cases like this. The roads around me in Oxfordshire are riddled with potholes. I could spend a week listing them on 'Fill that hole' and it still wouldn't be complete. The trouble is that many seem to be on roads barely wide enough for two cars which means you are reliant on the car drivers behind acting responsibly if you suddenly have to pull out to avoid one, or worse go down one.

posted by Ridgebackrambler [13 posts]
6th March 2014 - 14:35

14 Likes

Ridgebackrambler wrote:

you are reliant on the car drivers behind acting responsibly if you suddenly have to pull out to avoid one, or worse go down one.

Sadly most drivers seem to have forgotten what a safe stopping distance is ("Stopping distance? Don't be ridiculous, I've been driving accident-free for 20 years ...")

Work harder. Buy a tank.

userfriendly's picture

posted by userfriendly [325 posts]
6th March 2014 - 14:45

7 Likes

Simmo72 wrote:
scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

you use the roads, you wear out the roads, you pay for your use. No more paying into the big tax black hole. Road generated revenue for roads. this bollox about your co2 is tosh. Toyota Prius, what a joke, about as environmentally friendly as a Chernobyl fruit salad.

or just stick it on fuel and lets us ride for free.

I don't entirely disagree with the principle, but there are many other costs involved as well as just wear-and-tear/maintenance.

CO2 matters, even if you might be one of those who think you can make up your own "science" to suit yourself (dunno about a Prius, mind you, electricity generation produces plenty of CO2). But local pollution kills thousands of people every year also - diesel in particular is a scandal.

And then not all roads are equivalent, it matters when and where you drive as well as how far (some roadspace is in more demand than others - hence congestion charging - and some causes more local pollution harm than others).

There's also the opportunity cost/land rent element of using the roads - that cost far outweighs the maintenance cost - land has value.

And there's also the question of if you store your car on the street when not driving it, which is a fixed cost regardless of how far you drive.

Oh, and not forgetting the costs of occasional middle-east wars because North Sea Oil isn't of the right grade for petrol so most of it comes from Saudi Arabia (where some of the proceeds goes towards spreading Wahabbism around the Muslim world! Top Gear - ally of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism!)

So I think the actual costs would work out differently from your suggestion. For one thing the total cost would be far greater than VED and fuel tax combined at present.

It might turn out to be uneconomic to collect the resultant small charge for bikes, especially when considering how many there are owned by children or sitting unused in storage. But I am certain that even if cyclists paid some carefully calculated amount it would do nothing to change the attitude of some drivers towards them.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [753 posts]
6th March 2014 - 15:09

6 Likes

Simmo72 wrote:
scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

you use the roads, you wear out the roads, you pay for your use. No more paying into the big tax black hole. Road generated revenue for roads. this bollox about your co2 is tosh. Toyota Prius, what a joke, about as environmentally friendly as a Chernobyl fruit salad.

or just stick it on fuel and lets us ride for free.

And if the revenue were insufficient temporarily due to a shortfall in users for some short time period then what? Let them fall into disrepair and waste future money that could have been saved by maintenance? Centralized revenue in government exists for a reason. Simplisitic use-it-pay-for-it schemes don't fit with long-term planning in society.

posted by Ush [437 posts]
6th March 2014 - 15:15

5 Likes

Simmo72 wrote:
scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

Engineering research shows that the actual road damage is proportional to the 4th power of axle load. Weight^4

It'd be quite a shake up for society, as then a car would pay roughly 10,000 times what a bike payed, while a large HGV would pay about 10,000 times what a car paid.....

posted by CarlosFerreiro [67 posts]
6th March 2014 - 16:04

6 Likes

CarlosFerreiro wrote:
Simmo72 wrote:
scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

Engineering research shows that the actual road damage is proportional to the 4th power of axle load. Weight^4

It'd be quite a shake up for society, as then a car would pay roughly 10,000 times what a bike payed, while a large HGV would pay about 10,000 times what a car paid.....

Which would ultimately see the bulk of the additional costs added to consumer goods due to haulage firms being hit - not saying it's wrong - but it would NOT be popular

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [567 posts]
6th March 2014 - 16:15

5 Likes

mad_scot_rider wrote:
CarlosFerreiro wrote:
Simmo72 wrote:
scrap vehicle tax, reintroduce good ol road tax.
+ charge every vehicle based on weight
bikes pay £2, fiesta £50, range rover + £1000, hell make it £2000.

Engineering research shows that the actual road damage is proportional to the 4th power of axle load. Weight^4

It'd be quite a shake up for society, as then a car would pay roughly 10,000 times what a bike payed, while a large HGV would pay about 10,000 times what a car paid.....

Which would ultimately see the bulk of the additional costs added to consumer goods due to haulage firms being hit - not saying it's wrong - but it would NOT be popular

I wonder if it would, in the end, actually be more economically efficient, in that people would then make decisions based on the correct cost-benefit calculations? As it stands people's decisions are distorted because they pay the cost of these sorts of things in concealed ways.

You have to pay for road maintenance (through council-tax amongst others) regardless of whether you buy goods that are road-hauled, therefore there's a bias towards the use of road-haulage when the market might find some other solution if people knew how much it was actually costing them.

Wouldn't be popular though, definitely.

(I feel the same way about those supermarkets with humungous car-parks. That's valuable land, and someone is paying the cost of that 'free' car-parking - I presume it ends up being every shopper in the form of higher prices, regardless of whether they use the car park or not. Which makes me wonder why we will have a 'plastic bag tax' and not a 'supermarket car park tax'.
But maybe there's a sense in which having such car parks brings more custom, hence economies of scale, hence lower prices after all. But then again it also kills town centre shops. Dunno, can't figure it out, but I think the economics of it all is quite hidden from view)

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [753 posts]
6th March 2014 - 19:05

11 Likes

North Yorks Country Council is going to get sued for a lot of £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££. People at this council should at least lose their jobs for such gross incompetence which has resulted in some one losing their life. Disgraceful.

Airzound

posted by Airzound [494 posts]
6th March 2014 - 20:22

4 Likes

whilst i agree with compensation where appropriate for genuine cases, i do worry that it could lead to a compensation culture in which people actively go out looking for blame to make the claim.

and all that does is stuck precious money out of all of our local services.

posted by DrStephens [6 posts]
6th March 2014 - 22:11

3 Likes

userfriendly wrote:
Ridgebackrambler wrote:

you are reliant on the car drivers behind acting responsibly if you suddenly have to pull out to avoid one, or worse go down one.

Sadly most drivers seem to have forgotten what a safe stopping distance is ("Stopping distance? Don't be ridiculous, I've been driving accident-free for 20 years ...")

Erm, just for clarity are you suggesting that all cars should remain the correct stopping distance behind a bicyle at all times? In that case, how would they get close enough to overtake (or do you envisage one cyclist creating a tail back of 100 cars?), or are you also suggesting that cars should start overtaking 100m back from the cyclist? Either way, I think this is somewhat impractical on heavily trafficked roads and would simply create even more antagonism towards cyclists.

posted by JeevesBath [131 posts]
7th March 2014 - 8:06

8 Likes

Airzound wrote:
North Yorks Country Council is going to get sued for a lot of £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££. People at this council should at least lose their jobs for such gross incompetence which has resulted in some one losing their life. Disgraceful.

Authorities have audited processes which they have to follow for activities such as maintenance. For example, the Highways Agency has a defined 'grading' for severity of potholes which dictates how quickly they have to be repaired. As long as it can be shown that the employees were following the process correctly, no individual can be held responsible.

posted by JeevesBath [131 posts]
7th March 2014 - 8:13

5 Likes

Everybody knows " SPEED KILLS "!

What about making a person caught for " speeding ", have the vehicle IMMEDIATELY fixed with a " Bar Code Strip " that can be detected by the Police Radar Gun ! In addition a reflective sign attached that shows " ALL that can see " , this vehicle has to travel at " 5 mph or 10 mph below posted Speed Limit for a 6 or 12 month period !

Each person driving the vehicle will be required to observe the restriction and if SOLD , the owner will have to place the " restriction " on their New Vehicle !

When Jeremy speedophile knows that they are to be the subject of attention & Ridicule , will they not decide to obey the LAW ?

Having targeted " Speedsters " , perhaps RLJ types could incur similar attention ?

Yes i know , you wouldn't want to be trailing around town at 10mph because the Zone speed limit is 20mph and the vehicle in front is limited !

Better that , than a child getting skittled by one of those with 50+points , that a dozy magistrate allows to hold onto their licence for some " PITIFUL REASON "!

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

skippy's picture

posted by skippy [392 posts]
7th March 2014 - 20:21

4 Likes

This article says the driver hit the cyclist from the opposite direction.

However, latest reports say it was the driver OVERTAKING. Sort of changes the situtation somewhat

"As he overtook, he saw Mr Uzzell wobble and then heard a thud.

"Mr Panesar ... believed he was giving sufficent room when overtaking."

http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/news/localnews/11053965.Questions__still_r...

posted by sfichele [110 posts]
2nd April 2014 - 12:29

2 Likes