Mud on the Roads

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It’s time to clean up your act! 

Pat Phillips, Claims Technician for South West insurer Cornish Mutual says it is absolutely vital that farmers clean up their act to keep other road-users safe.

Over the last few years there has been a major effort from organisations, including Cornish Mutual, to get the message out about the problem of mud being left on the roads from farms. It’s quite simple really – whoever puts mud on the roads is responsible for cleaning it up. Sadly, serious accidents still happen. Just last month it was reported that a biker suffered injuries after colliding with a car in North Devon, after apparently skidding on heavy mud deposited from a nearby farm.

Common culprits are farm vehicles, but runoff from fields is also a problem. Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable on slippery roads and if mud is left to build up, it can become engrained in the road surface and turn this into a skating rink.

Cleaning up any mud brought on to the road is a farmer or landowner’s legal obligation, set out in The Highways Act 1980. It is a criminal offence for a farmer to leave mud on the roads. Different Highway Authorities have differing views about what is an acceptable level of contamination, but it is best to err on the side of caution. Even mud from vehicles not belonging to the landowner, for example a contractor spreading muck on the fields or a milk tanker, can still be the landowner’s responsibility.

At Cornish Mutual we still handle a number of claims relating to accidents caused by mud on the roads. The problem is not going away and, in fact, it is becoming a bigger issue for a number of reasons. The growth of farms means that farm vehicles are often now driven several miles between fields. Tractors and other farm vehicles are getting bigger, which not only means they can carry more mud on their tyres, but that they also often have to travel along more major roads. We are all aware of the many challenges for farmers caused by the changes in our weather. We are being told to prepare for a cold snap this year, but overall temperatures are rising, bringing more rain - and more mud.

It is more important than ever, then, for farmers to understand their responsibilities in keeping the roads clean. So, what can farmers do to prevent a problem?

  • Drive farm vehicles at lower speeds to reduce the spreading of muck and mud
  • If you are going to be involved in harvesting or any activity that is likely to result in mud going on to the roads, put up the recommended signage to warn fellow road users of slippery roads
  • Clean up the roads periodically during the day, if needed, and schedule a proper clean-up at the end of the day
  • Keep good records of which fields you are using and when you have carried out any clean-ups

While farm vehicles often cause muddy country lanes, runoff is also a problem, especially in periods of wet weather. There are, of course, many ways to address the issue, like contour ploughing. This is not possible with some of our very hilly farms in the South West, so many farmers instead leave a border or ditch around a field of crops to reduce the amount of runoff.

Many farmers choose to employ contractors to carry out clean ups. Just make sure you are confident they will do a good job as the ultimate responsibility still falls on you as the landowner.

Some farmers keep excellent records of their activity and this becomes really important if you find yourself faced with being accused of causing an accident by leaving mud on the roads. When one of our Members found himself in this situation, his records showed that he had actually not been working on the nearby fields around the time of the accident. His records meant that he was not found to be responsible.

If you have appropriate public liability insurance in place then you, of course, will be covered for any accidents caused by mud left on the road from your farm. But let’s all do our bit to avoid it getting to that stage. This is about removing the risk and keeping road users safe.

Pat Phillips, Claims Technician at Cornish Mutual

For advice, please contact the Cornish Mutual team on 01872 277151.