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Lack of motorway debris clearance ‘exacerbating danger for road users’

Claims Management & Adjusting (CMA) has called on Highways England to urgently review the arrangements for clearing debris from UK motorways following a rise in ‘swerve to avoid’ and ‘tyre blowout’ related claims.

Cars on motorway

Claims Management & Adjusting says it’s concerned at the increasing number of cases involving drivers swerving to avoid debris

According to the claims management specialist, blow out / swerve / flood / fire claims have risen by about 20% on last year. It added that part of the explanation is the zero carriageway crossings policy adopted by Highways England in 2011, designed to protect the lives of contractor employees, but also said that “Highways England contractors’ reluctance to incur traffic management costs is exacerbating the danger for road users”.

Managing director Philip Swift said: “We are extremely concerned at the increasing number of cases involving drivers swerving to avoid debris and fear it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed. Highways England contractors are paid a lump sum to provide barrier repairs, gully clearance and litter removal, but the costs associated with closing a carriageway are a disincentive to removing larger items like burst tyres.

“Even if a Highways Agency Traffic Officer (HATO) or contractor does attend, there can be a tendency to kick the problem to the side of the road, and that puts lives at risk from secondary factors. For example, shards from disintegrating debris can cause punctures, which result in collisions. Debris can also impede drainage, leading to standing water, aquaplaning and crashes.

“Safety is the paramount issue here, but there is a financial aspect to it as well. We find ourselves in the crazy situation where Highways England contractors are presenting claims for barrier repairs potentially caused by debris they are responsible for clearing. This irony is often compounded by a debris clearance charge being lumped in with the repair cost and an invoice being presented to either the driver or their insurer. That is frankly astounding given the clearance task has already been paid for by Highways England, yet we see it happening ever more frequently.”

Commenting on the average costs, Swift added: “With a blow-out, I would say it generally falls between £5,000 and £8,000 to repair the barrier. It all depends upon what you hit. If a fire, this will likely be over £10k, maybe £16,000 to £18,000 for the damage to the road surface.

“As for ‘who they bill’, the £5k-£8k is the cost a driver, fleet or insurer will see. If the contractor is billing Highways England using ‘mate’s rates’ you can at least halve that. And therein lies another story: how fleets are being duped into believing they are playing on a level field. They are not. Hence £102,000 of claims became £56,000 earlier this year.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.