As England and Wales appears – at least thus far – to have escaped the much-forecasted “exceptionally hard” winter, there may not be a huge number of 2012 cases pursued in the courts relating to inappropriate winter maintenance by highways authorities. However a future consideration in such cases may relate to the adequacy and suitability of the gritting machines themselves.
Westminster City Council have this winter adopted a new type of gritting lorry. Their lead has been followed by Gloucestershire and Essex local authorities. The new high-tech vehicles are fitted with GPS and sensors to ensure that every inch of highway possible is gritted or salted during periods of snowy or icy weather. The new technology makes it much harder for the Council to miss certain areas as should a lorry fail to grit a certain stretch or area of road, this will be immediately obvious.
The implications are potentially very great in terms of litigation. Questions of whether a particular street was appropriately gritted, when and by whom, are likely to be conclusively answered with reference to this new technology. This may of course lead to more cases being settled by highways authorities or abandoned by claimants upon such information being made available. Instead, claims relating to councils’ adoption or – perhaps more likely – their failure to adopt the new technology, may be litigated.
The photograph is of a very early Twentieth Centrury horse-drawn gritter.