‘Cyclist’s death not the fault of council’

So runs the headline in the Isle of Wight County Press on October 5th. I have previously mentioned this incident in which a 47 year old local woman died after hitting a pothole while descending a steep hill on her bike. On the day in question I climbed the hill and noticed that the road surface on the other side, which was always poor, had now deteriorated further and made a mental note to take extra care on my return. When I did return several hours later the road was closed because of a police fatal accident inquiry.

The County Press report runs as follows. ( I have abbreviated this to include only the salient details)

‘The I W Council was not to blame for the death of a cyclist who was thrown from her bike after hitting a pothole, an inquest ruled this week.
Witnesses who were driving behind Mrs Hollis when the accident happened two years ago, told the inquest she was ‘bombing’ down the shute at just over 30 mph when her rear wheel suddenly flew into the air and she was thrown from her bike.’

This is clearly the witnesses’ impression but surely more than that is required at an inquest. A motorist has no way of accurately judging a cyclists’ speed. The witnesses attentions were hopefully focussed on the road and not their speedometer and the fact that you are driving at roughly 30mph does not mean that a cyclist you have caught up with is going at the same speed. The use of the word ‘bombing’ is highly emotive and prejudicial to the cyclist. A motorist traveling at that speed would be described as going slowly. The road has a 60 mph speed limit. As the accident happened towards the bottom of a steep hill a cyclist has no alternative to travelling at a fair speed but 30 mph seems to me to be highly unlikely. I’ve certainly never exceeded 25 mph on that road ( the max speed indicator on my computer tells me this). The coroner went on to cite the cyclist’s speed as a factor in her death.

‘They said she seemed to skid on a patch of water. However, a crash scene investigation found she had hit a 3 cm deep pothole and lost control.
There had long been a problem with water running across Brook Shute, caused by a natural spring, and the road had started to crack and break up after being surface dressed with chip and tar five months previously, the inquest heard.
Peter Spink representing the Hollis family, argued that the council had failed to maintain the road to a safe standard but I W coroner Caroline Sumeray disagreed.
She recorded a verdict of accidental death, contributed to by Mrs Hollis’s speed and defects in the road surface.
The inquest heard from cyclists who criticised the ‘dangerous’ road, claiming the surface was poor and water filled the potholes, making them impossible to see.’

I was not one of the cyclists at the inquest but I certainly share their view. The road surface was always poor because of the water constantly running across it. The safest place to be when descending was in the middle of the road just inside the white line but this is difficult with following traffic.

‘But Mrs Sumeray said evidence given by Highways staff, that the road was inspected every month and no dangerous defects had been found, was compelling. She said there was no reason to doubt the evidence given by highways inspector John Barry, who said if the pothole was there when he inspected the road around three weeks before the accident, he would have spotted it.
Possible criminal negligence charges on the part of the council have also been ruled out by the police.
An I W Council spokesperson said: “The council wishes to express its sincerest condolences to the family of Kathryn Hollis over this tragic accident”‘

Two years on its not hard to spot the site of this tragedy. Its the patch of road that has been dug up and completely resurfaced with nice smooth tarmac instead of the network of small patches that was there before. A new drain now takes the water away so that it no longer runs across the road. Horses and stable doors spring to mind.