Riders can sue for roadworks crashes


How many times have you struggled to ride safely through roadworks where there is no suitable detour provided? Did you know that if you crash as a result, you can sue the roadworks contractors?

I recently rode through several roadworks sites on the New England Highway where the workers had dug up both sides of the road and provided no safe alternate route. Significant rain had turned the roadworks into a boggy, rutted, corrugated mess unsuitable for many vehicles, let alone the heavy touring motorcycles that are popular on this main highway. It is not as if the contractors weren’t warned about the weather. The heavy falls had been predicted several days prior with more to come this week.

While our crew of touring motorcycles made it through safely, there were some very hairy moments as we were forced to paddle at walking speed to negotiate a 1.4km section of roadworks at Black Mountain near Armidale. Others may not have been so lucky. If you crashed at the roadworks please send an email to mark@motorbikewriter.com. Meanwhile, check the Armidale Express tomorrow for their front-page story about the sorry mess.

We had no idea how bad the roadworks would be!

Maurice Blackburn Lawyers principal Malcolm Cummings, who works in their motor vehicle accident injuries department in Melbourne, says roadworks contractors have an obligation to provide a safe alternate route for all road users. “Obviously what may be safe for some road users may not be safe for motorcyclists,” says Malcolm who is investigating a case of a rider who crashed his new Kawasaki 250 in clay left at a site where roadworks had recently been completed.

“There is also a duty of care to clear up a roadworks site making it safe for all road users, motorcyclists included. In this case, they’d finished their works and done some clearing up but they left some and he slipped. He suffered some significant orthopaedic injuries including a nasty fracture of a bone in his shoulder which needed an operation and the insertion of plates and screws. As a result he has lost the ability to return to his trade.” Malcolm says the rider’s bike was only slightly damaged in the low-speed crash.

A Roads and Maritime Services spokesman says in an email reply that the New England Highway roadworks included widening, stabilising and sealing the work area, “which would require about four to five days of fine weather to complete”.
“Before the full section of road could be sealed, the region experienced significant wet weather, with more than 100mm of rain falling, leaving about 1.4km unsealed. Twenty-four hour traffic control has been in place with workers carrying out repairs as required, with flashing lights, signage and a 40km/h limit in place. Roads and Maritime Services understands the unsealed section of road was rough as a result of the heavy rain combined with regular traffic, which is why crews were onsite 24 hours a day to monitor the road and make repairs as necessary. The posted speed of 40km/h was a maximum limit appropriate to the condition of the road and weather being experienced. Road users are not required to travel at the maximum limit if the conditions do not suit that speed. Road users should travel at a safe speed for their vehicle type and the conditions. No crashes were reported at the site during the weather event. Warning signals, flashing lights and signage was in place leading into the worksite, to give road users adequate notice of approaching roadwork.”

Correct roadworks leave half the road open

But clearly they provided no alternate route for riders and dug up the entire road surface despite ample warning of a significant looming weather event. Whatever happened to detours or half-road closures so traffic can negotiate suitable road surfaces?

“There is a general duty at common law to ensure that work that has been performed doesn’t put riders in a situation of danger,” says Malcolm. “As a general principle where negligent road works or maintenance results in damage or injury there has been a breach of common law. There may also be statutory provisions in various jurisdictions. Without any detours, to have a road in a state that is not safe to be navigating is obviously problematic.”

A check of the RMS website for the roadworks showed this notice: “Reduced speed limit (40km/h). Allow extra travel time. 1 lane will be available under alternating conditions during road patching. Motorists can expect delays of up to 5 minutes.” The one lane available was also dug up and not suitable for most motorcycles. No detour was provided.

This roadworks debacle is typical of the lack of attention paid by authorities to motorcycles and the growing incidence of digging up the whole road instead of one lane only. Even though we only represent about 1% of traffic, motorcycle riders still pay taxes. We are the most vulnerable road users and the most ignored.


  1. Today I road the Monaro Hwy to Cooma. From there I road the Snowy Mountain Hyw to Tumut. I have gone to cooma a number of times this year & I still notice at the end of newly patched road there is sandy clay washing out from road work that was finished some many months ago. The snowy Mountain road was the same only a bit more scary as some of it is on bends. If I did not pick my line right I was afraid of going down. I thought as I was traveling that it was very slack that the roads had not been cleaned off by the contractors & or who ever check’s the job after completion had not made them clean this up before signing off

    1. I should have made it clear that the clay is washed out in the middle of the lane were the new work meets the existing road. You only have a clean space to ride were the car tracks are

  2. I and a friend (both VFR800) had experienced exactly the same thing on Armidale Rd near Billys Creek heading south a couple of years ago. The entire road surface, in both directions for a length of 200 meters or so was loose stones about the size of a Coke can.
    The bike was all over the place as it slipped on these stones and they moved around under us.

    The truly distressing fact is this location was a very long way from any medical help (if there was even mobile phone access to call for help,) lucky for us we did not fall.

    Road workers clearly have no concern for the road users, in fact some seem to see us as a interference to their task.

    1. Warren, thanks for your comment.
      This is an ongoing issue of great importance to riders.
      I was speaking with a lawyer from Maurice Blackburmn Lawyers this week asnd he says he has an important test case coming up on this very issue, so stay tuned.

  3. And not just the contractor. The RMS or equivalent is also responsible. Same as wire rope has a standard that it must be from roadway

  4. A couple of weeks ago I rang the Mackay City Council about some roadworks where they’ve come along and dug up the whole road all the way across, and then just left it with a surface of loose gravel and mud.

    There is no lighting there at night, no signage, no reduced speed limit, no warning at all if you’re riding along that most of your traction is about to disappear.

    Three times I called, three times I was told someone would call me back.
    I still have had not one reply or any contact of any kind.

    And three weeks later the road is still the same, they’ve done nothing nothing about it at all.

    1. Contact the Mackay Daily Mercury and kick up a stink. The only way politicians will do anything about this is if we make some noise in the media. Has anyone fallen off in these or any other roadworks? Please tell me and I’ll try to make some noise about this issue.

  5. I must be getting old, for I remember when riders crashed it was their own fault. No one blamed the goat track that was commonly referred to as the public road. In fact there are still many roads like this and they are still fun to traverse without the luxury of an adventure bike. Has anyone tried Merriwa to Willow Tree on a Harley?

    1. David the problem is not about taking responsiblity for ones own actions when it comes to road works . Its about these contractors reducing costs to enlarge profits. My biggest bug bear is road crews not sweeping loose stones after sealing. We travelled along the mitta road a couple of weeks ago my mate got caught in loose stones on a corner down he went and got cleaned up by a 4wd and now he has to have total knee reconstruction and may not be able to work again as a sparky. Now the police said it was road conditions caused it was not speed. We video to prove that. His bike written off. So why should a contractor trying to save a few dollars by not sweeping a road not be held liable for there lack of care. Maurice expect his call

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