AA's pothole warning coincides with news of inquest into cyclist's death

67-year-old out for ride with husband dies after being thrown from bike on descent in Somerset

by Simon_MacMichael   November 25, 2011  

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

A coroner’s inquest has heard of how a 67-year-old woman was killed when she was thrown off her bike after hitting a pothole on a descent. Somerset County Council had been aware of the pothole for more than four months prior to the incident. The news comes as the AA warns that with winter on its way, cash-strapped councils are struggling to repair existing damage to roads.

Margaret Nicholl, a retired civil servant from Wincanton, Somerset, was three miles into a ride with her husband Richard, aged 70, as they headed up a hill at Shepton Montague, Somerset, on 14 March this year, reports This Is Somerset.

The couple had cycled together for five decades, each clocking up around 4,000 miles annually on their bikes. Mrs Nicholl had been a member of the CTC for 45 years. Mr Nicholl told the court he had checked his wife’s bike the day before the ride.

"As we went over the brow of the hill I saw some potholes,” he told the court. “I was slightly ahead of Margaret and to her right.

"I pointed with my left hand and shouted ‘potholes’. Within two seconds I heard a bang and I am sure she hit a pothole.

"I then heard a dull thud as if she had fallen off her bike. I saw Margaret lying in the road still astride her bike. I went back to her and saw she was unconscious.”

The court was told that after hitting one of a series of five potholes on the road and that she rode on for another 28 yards in an attempt to get her balance back before coming off her bike, receiving what were described as “massive head injuries.”

Mr Nicholl had explained that neither he nor his wife wore helmets because they had read that that helmets were ineffective at speeds of 12mph or more. At the time of the incident, they were descending at 35mph.

Mrs Nicholl died ten days later at Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital, to which she had been transferred from the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

Phillip Kingdom, highways inspection manager for Somerset County Council, said that the road was inspected every six months and had been due to be checked the day before the incident, but wasn’t actually checked until a fortnight later. It had previously been inspected on 8 September 2010.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, East Somerset Coroner Tony Williams commented: “We have evidence of Mrs Nicholl clearly riding through the last of the potholes but possibly riding through others as well.”

News of the inquest’s verdict coincides with the AA revealing that its Streetwatchers – members of the public who have signed up to help it research issues at local level and thereby help depict the national picture – have reported more potholes requiring attention this year than 12 months ago.

The AA’s survey discovered that the average pothole count per Streetwatcher was 14.9 in October compared to 12.5 a year earlier. Potholes were defined by the survey, which was conducted by 1,000 volunteers spending an hour walking around their local area, as being at lease six inches in diameter and at least two inches deep.

"The AA Streetwatch volunteers have once again shown that the UK has a pothole plague which has not gone away despite extra repairs this year,” said AA President Edmund King.

“Highways authorities need to get to grips with the pothole problem, as compensation claims will soar when cold weather strikes and roads start breaking up again placing greater burdens on already strained budgets," he added.

"Drivers don’t want to spend the winter trying to zig-zag round even more potholes and paying out when their cars are damaged by repairable road defects.

“The poor condition of the roads is of particular concern to those on two wheels when the consequences of hitting a pothole can be fatal," Mr King concluded.

That’s a warning that is made all too clear by the tragic case of Mrs Nicholl, which also underlined the need for councils not to delay in taking steps to repair potholes when they do occur.

National cyclists’ organisation CTC’s Fill That Hole website, also available as an iPhone app, allows you to notify the relevant authorities of any potholes that need to be brought to their attention. It also issues a league table of those councils that are the best performing when it comes to fixing potholes, and those that are worst.

20 user comments

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The thing that grabs me from this report is not the potholes because i can't got 100 meters up here without seeing a patch of them

Its the fact they didn't wear helmets because of a report saying they were "ineffective at speeds of 12mph or more" So most of their cycling must have been done above that speed for them to choose not to wear them?

I don't care at what speed i'm cycling, a helmet is still going to take some of the impact if my head hits the road, madness not to wear one

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8935 posts]
25th November 2011 - 17:01

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Jebus, here we go again...

posted by andyp [964 posts]
25th November 2011 - 17:09

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Quote:
A coroner’s inquest has heard of how a 67-year-old was when she was thrown of her bike after hitting a pothole...

What was she?

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1356 posts]
25th November 2011 - 17:29

1 Like

Thanks Cat1, not sure how that happened, it was all present and correct in the original Thinking

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8253 posts]
25th November 2011 - 17:34

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Gkam84 wrote:
The thing that grabs me from this report is not the potholes because i can't got 100 meters up here without seeing a patch of them

Its the fact they didn't wear helmets because of a report saying they were "ineffective at speeds of 12mph or more" So most of their cycling must have been done above that speed for them to choose not to wear them?

I don't care at what speed i'm cycling, a helmet is still going to take some of the impact if my head hits the road, madness not to wear one

I would imagine that it was said either pre-empting, or responding to, the insinuation that she wouldn't have died if she'd been wearing a helmet.

posted by nellybuck@msn.com [156 posts]
25th November 2011 - 17:37

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They were aged 67 and 70 and descending at 35mph down a country road in the UK in the early spring following the worst winter for over 30 years. Whilst its an extremely sad story, I think they failed to take reasonable precautions. Sorry to sound matter of fact but I think its just a tragic accident where the poor lady was aware of the risks.

The implication seems to be that we cyclists have a right to a decent road surface. In an ideal world we should but county councils are struggling to keep on top of potholes from last winter in my experience. The sooner we report new ones the better.

Safe riding everyone.

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [563 posts]
25th November 2011 - 18:01

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The potholes on the roads out here are shockingly bad and were especially early this year - don't be in any doubt Gkam that that's what killed her. The fact that the poor woman also managed to have a serious crash a long way from an A&E trauma unit can't have helped - we were gobsmacked when we read she was taken to Bath for treatment.

To be honest starting to talk about whether she was wearing a helmet or not is getting dangerously close to blaming the victim. Last time I looked failure to wear a lid while riding on country lanes with your spouse was not a capital offence.

Us mentioning in the article that she wasn't wearing a helmet was purely because it was an issue addressed by the court. On a story in which a cyclist died from anything other than head injuries, the likelihood is we wouldn't have mentioned it all. While the corner will have taken it in to account It's also worth pointing out that he doesn't appear to have made anything of it in his summing up

Personally I'd rather concentrate on the shocking state of the nation's roads and the fact that the worst motorists are likely to suffer is damaged suspension while for cyclists the dangers are a lot greater - helmet or no helmet.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
25th November 2011 - 18:03

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I agree with arrieredupeleton. Taking a big risk to do 35mph down a country lane in the UK. I usually assume that the road surface is suspect on roads I don't know. Mind you, wisdom of hindsight and all that....

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
25th November 2011 - 18:44

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I'm in no way suggesting the COD is not wearing a helmet, I understand that lid or not its a call that everyone is entitled to, but if you know your route and know that you may be going down hill at 35mph, potholes or not, i find it mad you would not choose to stick a lid on "just incase"

The state of the roads are shocking, you should try cycling up here where we had the most snow and coldest temperatures over the winter last year and with cut backs to the council, they are never going to catch up on the amount of repairs that NEED to happen, some of the roads i'm having to treat as a slalom

BUT alas the snow has started here again and its time to dust the trainer out, more miles indoor and only long rides out doors, i'm not risking myself on short rides -25 miles when i can do more on the trainer and be safer

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8935 posts]
25th November 2011 - 18:52

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It's a shame she was only 67 with many more cycling years ahead of her. But,she died doing what she enjoyed and staying fit and healthy too.
I think it's too harsh to blame the council for every pothole on every back lane - it's impossible to cover all the nations roads in fresh smooth tarmac all of the time.
Cycling has it's risks and adults manage those risks as they see fit. I, like many others, have toured for years on lanes and poor roughstuff tracks. I've never worn a helmet, I've come off quite a few times but I know the risks and act accordingly. I imagine she did too, but we can't all get it right all the time.
Life/death just ain't like that.

When my time comes, I think I'd rather go in a high speed cycling accident such as this, than as a gibbering wreck in an OAP's home.
To raise the odds of that, I shall continue not to wear a helmet and enjoy myself as much as possible by cycling as fast as I possibly can at all times!

I hope I still have Margaret's spirit when I'm 67.

andybwhite's picture

posted by andybwhite [198 posts]
25th November 2011 - 19:21

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We can't know but maybe if she'd worn a helmet, she'd have died of a broken neck or other internal injuries. Who knows.

The road repairs in all of Somerset are awful. Some roads are worse after their repairs because they appear to have been botched: fills and patches not smoothed, patch edges not sealed, small potholes near large ones just left unfilled and then surface-dressed, surface-dressing the verge but leaving a gap in the middle. You name a way to bodge a road repair, it happens in Somerset lately. The contractors seem to be left largely unattended - because of council cuts, perhaps?

posted by a.jumper [710 posts]
25th November 2011 - 21:36

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I fail to see why the fact that they were aged 67 and 70 has anything to do with the fatality. If they were aged 50 and descending at 35mph would the road surface then be considered at fault? Perhaps 40? No... 30 then?

What caused this tragic accident was a dangerous road surface, left un-repaired by a corner-cutting council. They were clearly very experienced riders and my heart goes out to the poor widower.

posted by tombarr [17 posts]
26th November 2011 - 2:50

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tombarr wrote:
I fail to see why the fact that they were aged 67 and 70 has anything to do with the fatality. If they were aged 50 and descending at 35mph would the road surface then be considered at fault? Perhaps 40? No... 30 then?

What caused this tragic accident was a dangerous road surface, left un-repaired by a corner-cutting council. They were clearly very experienced riders and my heart goes out to the poor widower.

I fail to see where your reading that their age or experience is taken into question regarding the accident and loss of life

The report merely states their ages and nothing further about that, as ANY report of ANY road death does, you don't see the bbc reporting on a death of a driver/cyclist/pedestrian without mentioning their age

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8935 posts]
26th November 2011 - 5:40

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totally agree Tony - another sad case to remind us all and make us a little more cautious perhaps

Callybike

posted by cliveg1 [31 posts]
26th November 2011 - 8:48

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Here in Sefton we have our council patching cracks in the pavement around trees whilst the potholed road next to said trees remains unpatched. I wonder if Sefton Council are working to some pre bad winter schedule rather than revisiting roads at public request and prioritising bad areas.

I've been trying to get work done on a patch of road for over 2 years now and even my local MP cannot get a response from the council.

As for the great helmet debate my original simple test question still suffices. I will fire you from a cannon at a brick wall head first. 'One question? Would you like a helmet or not?" Big Grin

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1072 posts]
26th November 2011 - 14:46

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MercuryOne wrote:

As for the great helmet debate my original simple test question still suffices. I will fire you from a cannon at a brick wall head first. 'One question? Would you like a helmet or not?" Big Grin

That's so witty - not. I think I know what shape your helmet is. Wink

andybwhite's picture

posted by andybwhite [198 posts]
26th November 2011 - 15:39

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MercuryOne wrote:
As for the great helmet debate my original simple test question still suffices. I will fire you from a cannon at a brick wall head first. 'One question? Would you like a helmet or not?" Big Grin

As long as the cannon fires me at well over 12mph, it doesn't matter - a bike helmet probably won't save you then anyway!

posted by a.jumper [710 posts]
26th November 2011 - 15:42

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MercuryOne wrote:
I will fire you from a cannon at a brick wall head first. 'One question? Would you like a helmet or not?" Big Grin

You'll break your neck first - a helmet's not gonna help...

posted by JonD [189 posts]
27th November 2011 - 0:02

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My comment was directed specifically at arrieredupeleton who wrote...

"They were aged 67 and 70 and descending at 35mph down a country road in the UK in the early spring following the worst winter for over 30 years."

The statements on age of rider, speed of descent and harshness of winter are all made to point out the probability of this accident.

Like I say, age should have no bearing on one's assessment of this tragedy.

posted by tombarr [17 posts]
27th November 2011 - 1:41

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tombarr wrote:
My comment was directed specifically at arrieredupeleton who wrote...

"They were aged 67 and 70 and descending at 35mph down a country road in the UK in the early spring following the worst winter for over 30 years."

The statements on age of rider, speed of descent and harshness of winter are all made to point out the probability of this accident.

Like I say, age should have no bearing on one's assessment of this tragedy.

Sorry, my bad, i thought your comment was made in light of road.cc reporting the ages of then Sad

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8935 posts]
27th November 2011 - 2:13

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