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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.