Councils not required to address potholes

An inquest into the death of a motorcyclist who hit a pothole on a new bridge has issued no findings of fault, nor made recommendations for councils to promptly fix road defects.

James Hughes, 50, died when his Ducati 900S hit a massive pothole at the Oallen Ford Bridge near Goulburn in NSW on October 4, 2015. His bike veered and struck a railing, and he fell five metres to his death on the river bank below.

His partner Melissa Pearce says the inquest will not bring back her beloved partner, but she did expect some recommendations about the onus for councils to quickly address road problems.

Disappointing outcome

“I’m pretty disappointed,” she says.

“Goulburn has made a lot of changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but I was hoping for more recommendations of widespread changes so other councils can learn form it.

“The biggest tragedy is if the same thing happened to another rider in another area.”

Melissa plans to write to the Ministers for local councils and roads to commit to systemic changes to be made.

James and Melissa

The inquest was held at Goulburn court house before Deputy State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan last year and the findings were released today (February 21, 2017).

It simply found that James died at the scene from his injuries after hitting the pothole.

While making no recommendations of changes to the reporting of dangerous road damage by councils, the Coroner’s report does note that the Goulburn Mulwaree Council accepted it had errors in its system for recording complaints about roads and its system for prioritising maintenance.

Systemic changes

Council has since made several changes to its reporting system and internal structure to ensure potholes and other road damage are given a higher priority.

The bridge was opened on September 10, 2015, and an inspector first highlighted issues to the approaches only five days later.

Repairs were done the next day, but it was noted they would not hold.

There followed a bizarre sequence of reports by residents of dangerous potholes on the new bridge and key council staff being on leave and therefore not able to follow through with repairs.

Council acknowledged it had failed to identify the dangers or delegate work.inquest bridge roadworks pothole councils

“This demonstrates a systemic breakdown in Council’s communication system and the Council’s higher duty delegating system,” the Coroner’s report says.

Less than three weeks after the bridge opened James sadly crashed and died.

The road was repaired five days later.

James absolved of blame

While the Coroner concedes that the death occurred because of the pothole and that there were many people too blame for the incident, it found no blame on the rider.

The testimony of eyewitness Brendan Lindsay was accepted that James was only riding at 40-50km/h and slowing down when he hit the pothole.

“Mr Lindsay states that Mr Hughes braced himself against the handlebars just before the bike hit the pothole and he was thrown forwards when the rear wheel hit the pothole,” the report states.

“The bike began to wobble and hit the barriers on the left hand side of the bridge. Mr Hughes was thrown off his motorbike and over the edge of the bridge.”

Melissa says it was reassuring to know that James could not avoid the pothole and wasn’t riding in a manner that was unsafe.

Click here for the full Coroner’s Report.