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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Meanwhile, check the Armidale Express tomorrow for their front-page story about the sorry mess.
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.”
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.