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watch your step

The shocking state of Britain’s pavements

Three quarters of pedestrians encounter uneven pavements, and two-thirds say overgrown vegetation encroaches paths

9 August 2018

Drivers who are told by politicians to leave the car at home and walk or cycle for short journeys are running the gauntlet of potholes and poor pavements

Freedom of Information (FOI)* research by the AA finds that there were 10,200 claims for trips and slips on pavements over the past 12 months.  That’s on top of the 22 cyclists killed and 368 seriously injured since 2007, because of potholes.

From the FOI* data the AA can reveal that over the 12 months ending 31 May, 10,329 injury claims were made by pedestrians to local authorities, who paid out a whopping £2,110,995* . It comes at a time when new statistics show that a £1.2bn government plan to encourage youngsters to walk or cycle to school has fallen flat with the number doing so falling by 2% to 44%.** 

Big pothole 640

Pavements as bad as the roads

And, a separate AA-Populus study*** of over 16,000 AA members reveals that Britain’s pavements are in just as poor a state as the nation’s potholed roads, as revealed in the #FlagitFunditFillit campaign.

Not only do pedestrians have to watch their step on badly-maintained surfaces but also encounter hazards such as overgrown vegetation, temporary signs, badly-sited lamp-posts and damaged drain covers.

Pedestrians also complain about litter, cars parked on pavements and even signs low enough for people to hit their heads on, starkly highlighting the risk of taking to two feet.

Run the gauntlet of pavement hazards

Edmund King, AA president commented: “The government and local authorities repeatedly encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and take to their feet or to two wheels for short journeys.

“But the state of the pavements means walkers are expected to run the gauntlet of pavement hazards that are just as dangerous as the potholes that can injure or kill cyclists and damage cars.

the state of the pavements means walkers are expected to run the gauntlet of pavement hazards that are just as dangerous as the potholes that can injure or kill cyclists and damage cars
Edmund King, president of the AA

"Pavements are particularly dangerous at night and more so in places where street lights are switched off after midnight to save money.

“And that over 10,300 claims have been made in 12 months for pavement injuries, confirms that walking can be like negotiating a minefield."

The AA's  main research findings: 

Three-quarters (74%) of respondents say they regularly encounter cars parked on the pavement, with a similar number (73%) concerned about the uneven surface of pavements. 

  • 72% of pedestrians encounter litter
  • Two thirds (64%) say that paths are encroached by overgrown trees and hedges
  • More than 2 out of five (44%) say they encounter temporary signs such as roadworks signs, partly blocking pavements
  • Nearly a third (29%) say their local paths have permanent obstructions such as poles or sign posts
  • A quarter (25%) report hazardous damaged ironwork such as drain covers
  • An astonishing 6% say that local signs are at head height over pavements
Regionally:
  • Uneven pavements are most likely in the North-West (77%) while Northern Ireland appears to have the smoothest footpaths (61%)
  • Overgrown vegetation encroaching footpaths is most likely in the South-East (68%) and South-West (67%.  Scottish pavements (56%) least suffer from this problem
  • London pedestrians are most likely to find temporary (such as roadworks) signs on the footpath (44%); those in Wales least likely (34%)
  • Damaged ironwork is most likely in Scotland (32%) and least likely in Northern Ireland (18%)
  • Taller people are relatively equally likely to suffer a head injury from a sign placed too low over a pavement in all regions of the UK.  However women – who generally are shorter than men – are least likely to suffer this problem (4%) compared with men (7%)

Says King: “These hazards are bad enough for fit and able pedestrians but for those with impaired sight, a physical disability, with pushchairs or young children to manage, they can become serious issues.  Ill-considered parking or temporary signs just add to the danger by forcing people to step into the road.”

These hazards are bad enough for fit and able pedestrians but for those with impaired sight, a physical disability, with pushchairs or young children to manage, they can become serious issues
Edmund King, president of the AA

The AA’s Freedom of Information request to 421 councils throughout the UK resulted in 365 responses, representing 10,329 claims with an average of 29 injury claims per council.  

Of those councils that responded, 66 (18%) made no payment to claimants.  In all, 559 claimants were successful with an average payout of £2,458 per person (excluding councils that did not disclose the payments made).  See Appendix for FOI regional breakdown.

According to the Department for Transport’s latest Road Casualties annual report*** 23,102 pedestrians were injured and 448 killed during 2016.  

“That’s enough people to fill a football stadium,” King points out. “But I don’t doubt that most pavement mishaps go unreported so the true figure would probably fill several stadia.”  He says that pedestrians should respond to the AA’s https://twitter.com/hashtag/flagitfunditfillit social media campaign to urge the government to provide the funding to enable had-pressed councils to keep up with road and pavement repairs.

Highway authorities are expected to keep pavements as well as roads in a reasonable state of repair, complying with Section 41 of the Highways Act 1980.

“I would urge highway authorities not to neglect pavements while they are repairing Britain’s embarrassing backlog of potholes.  Equally, pedestrians should report hazards and pavement defects to their local authority because, like potholes, they have a statutory defence not to pay compensation for defects they are unaware of.”

I would urge highway authorities not to neglect pavements while they are repairing Britain’s embarrassing backlog of potholes
Edmund King, president of the AA
FOI summary in numbers:

(12 months ending 31 May 2018)

  • 365 local authorities responded
  • 10,329 claims
  • 207 councils made payments
  • £2,110,995 paid out in injury compensation
  • 859 claims successful
  • £2,458 – average payments in compensation
Winners and losers
  • 104 councils have made no payment to claimants (of which 50 say claims are ‘ongoing’)
  • Largest number of successful claims: London Borough of Hillingdon: 115 successful out of 148 claims (78%), total £346,596 paid out
  • Largest number of unsuccessful claims: Liverpool City Council, 448 claims but none successful
  • Largest number of claims in total: Lancashire County Council, 512 claims of which 31 (6%) have been successful sharing £119,535 and a further 311 ‘ongoing’
  • Only one reported that they had no claims: Shetland Islands Council

* AA asked a Freedom of Information question of UK local authorities how many claims for personal injury had been made by pedestrians, how many were successful and how much compensation had been paid to the end of April, 2018.

** Daily Telegraph 04 August 2018

 *** Populus questioned 16,238 AA members in an online poll 17-24 May 2018

****Department for Transport Road Casualties in Great Britain annual report 2016 (p.10)

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