• In the case of Gorringe v Calderdale MBC 2004 1 WLR 1057, a local authority was held not liable for a breach of duty under the Highways Act 1980 in respect of road markings and warnings.

Facts of the Case

  • Gorringe (G) appealed against a decision that the local authority did not have a duty to place road markings or to erect signs warning motorists to slow down on a particular stretch or road.
  • G was seriously injured in an accident which had occurred on the crest of a hill where no markings or signs warned of the road dangers.
  • Previously, the word ‘slow’ had been marked on the road but this was no longer visible at the time of the accident.
  • G, whilst driving within the correct speed limit, collided with a bus.
  • G claimed that the local authority had caused the accident by failing to give drivers proper warning of the dangers on the stretch of road.

Issues in Gorringe v Calderdale MBC 2004 1 WLR 1057

  • Did the local authority fail to maintain the road according to the Highways Act 1980 s.41
  • Is there a duty of care at common law under the Road Traffic Act 1988 s.39.

Held by House of Lords

  • Appeal dismissed.

Lord Hoffman

  • It was discussed that the provision of road sings or markings is quite different from keeping the highway in repair.
  • G’s accident had not been caused by any defect in the road surface or by any breach of duty of the authority.
  • “I find it difficult to imagine a case in which a common law duty can be founded simply upon the failure (however irrational) to provide some benefit which a public authority has power (or a public law duty) to provide.” [32]
  • “Of course it is in the public interest that local authorities should take steps to promote road safety. And it would also be unwise for them to assume that all drivers will take reasonable care for their own safety or that of others. If a driver kills or injures someone else by ignoring an obvious danger, it is little consolation to the victim or his family that the other driver was wholly to blame. And even if the careless driver kills or injures only himself, the accident may have a wider impact upon his family, his economic relationships and the burden on the public services.” [35]