Taking risks on rural roads

A sign warning drivers on 'Dozens Bank, Pode Hole.  Photo by Tim Wilson.
A sign warning drivers on 'Dozens Bank, Pode Hole. Photo by Tim Wilson.
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Life in the country brings its own hazards, one of which is the regular sight of “Caution - Mud on Road” signs.

But it’s no joke to anyone involved in one of the 1,510 accidents that took place on UK roads in 2013, according to Department of Transport figures, involving mud, oil and other debris from vehicles.

Ian Stancer and Simon Fisher with NFU Director of Policy Andrew Clark (left).

Ian Stancer and Simon Fisher with NFU Director of Policy Andrew Clark (left).

The risk of civil or criminal prosecution after an accident related to a muddy road led Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership (LRSP) and Lincolnshire Police to issue a joint statement this month, warning farmers and other drivers of agricultural vehicles to clean up roads after use.

An extract from the statement said: “Although operators of vehicles that leave mud and debris on the roads have placed warning signs (out) to warn other road users, they still have a duty of care and obligation to ensure they have made some attempt to prevent the carriage of that debris onto the highway.

“Death and serious injury has occurred previously when agricultural vehicles have deposited large amounts of mud onto the roads.

“Highways (authorities) and Lincolnshire Police will take action against farming companies or individual operators to prevent hazardous incidents.”

Simon Fisher, county adviser for the NFU (South) Holland, said: “Farm operations, for example harvesting fresh vegetables and sugar beet, can lead to mud being drawn out of fields.

“For this reason, it is important for farmers and contractors to have a plan to warn other road users of the hazard and clean the road as soon as possible, throughout the operation if required.

“We recommend that drivers and operators of farm machinery take necessary precautions and keep roads brushed as, under the Highways Act 1980, farmers and contractors have a legal obligation to ensure their vehicles are cleared of any mud or debris before entering the public highway.

“Excess mud on the road is a danger to cars, motorbikes and cyclists and can change the way a vehicle handles, causing skidding, especially in wet conditions.”

But people living in South Holland claim farmers aren’t taking the advice on board. leaving roads as an “accident waiting to happen”.

A message on the Guardian’s Facebook page from Linda Bayston of Gosberton said: “I live in an area where there are a lot of tractors having to get cabbages and sugar beet from the fields to the farms, so there is always going to be mud.

“But some of the verges are trashed and the roads are often dangerous with all the mud on them.

“Slip-sliding along pavements covered in mud isn’t that much fun.”

Chief Inspector Paul Timmins, in charge of policing South Holland and Boston, said: “I’ve worked in this area for ten to 12 years so I have a real understanding that mud on the road is an issue.

“We’re a rural area with lots of agricultural premises around and lots of agricultural vehicles will go off the road.

“It’s something we get a lot of calls to go and resolve but the difficulty is that we don’t have the physical resources available to us.

“So we work in partnership with Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership who do have the resources, but it all comes back to factory and farm owners swiftly cleaning up mud when it’s on the road to make it safe for other road users.”

Mr Timmins’ view was backed up by Crowland farmer Ian Stancer who said: “It is the farmer or grower’s responsibility to clean roads when mud is brought onto them during essential field operations.”