As winter fast approaches, a recently reported case is of interest. The case was one where a local authority were sued by the relatives of a deceased who had died whilst driving on a main road (a so-called Priority 1 route) between 5.35 and 6am one December.
The evidence showed the accident occurred when the car hit ice and the driver lost control. The relatives claimed that the local authority had not met the standard of care within the Roads (Scotland) Act, 1984 to take such steps as were reasonable to prevent snow and ice endangering the safe passage of vehicles and pedestrians.
It was a matter of admission that the local authorityâ€™s policy did not provide for the treatment of any roads between 9pm and 6am. It was alleged by the relatives that the local authority had:
(i) failed to treat the road the evening before by salting or gritting where pre-treating was reasonably required
(ii) failed to monitor conditions overnight by monitoring data or instigating a patrol
(iii) that they failed to treat the road overnight given the conditions which had arisen.
(i), the Court took the view that the afternoon decision not to pre-treat during the evening was not unreasonable since the decision had to be made for the area as a whole and the council officer could not reasonably be expected to make decisions for individual roads which were not known to present unusual hazards.
In relation to (ii) and (iii), which the Court considered together, this was an attack on the councilâ€™s policy of not treating roads between 9pm and 6am. Other councils did operate a 24 hour policy. The court had to decide whether its powers extended to consideration of a council policy when clearly that policy was dictated by competing public interests and weighing of resources. The Court indicated its view that the setting of operational policies was one for elected bodies and not the Courts. However, the Court also indicated that if it was wrong on the extent of its powers and could consider this policy matter, it would not hold that the policy adopted by this local authority was unreasonable.
In so deciding, it took the view that the operation of a non 24 hour policy was not outwith the reasonable discretion of the council. Other councils (of a similar topography) had the same policy in place. In any event, it was still for the relatives to show that if such a 24 hour policy had been in operation, it would have prevented this particular accident and there was no evidence to that effect. Of passing interest was the evidence that gritting of roads carrying a very low volume of traffic was of questionable value since it takes the action of traffic on salt to remove ice from the road.