Bridge Strikes – and Road Signs

By guest blogger Chris Butterfield

Bus expert Chris was and still is a bus driver who became a transport solicitor and lecturer before his retirement

Bridge strikes have featured prominently in recent Traffic Commissioner reports. Last September the Senior Traffic Commissioner wrote to all operators, stressing the need to ensure drivers should be aware of the risk of bridge strikes and should take all precautions to avoid them. Such an event will most likely lead to both driver and operator being called to a public inquiry.

This topic came to mind as I drove my car along a nearby road – a main A road crossed by a railway line. The bridge over the road has in the past been the scene of a number of bridge strikes. So many that warning lights have been installed to supplement the usual signage. A bridge with clearance of less than 16’6” will have some form of warning sign. But ahead of this bridge poles have been erected on each side of the road, so that if an over height vehicle approaches it will break a beam and activate warning signs, telling the driver to stop and turn round.

I was following an artic with a very high trailer. Knowing the road well I had to wonder if it would clear the bridge and held back. Sure enough, it triggered the warning lights. I held back further. The driver went on – and under the bridge. I could only think it was a driver who knew the road well, and from past experience knew that despite the signposted height of 15’6” there was enough tolerance allowed for his truck to pass underneath.

So no harm was done. But did the driver break the law? Yes, he did. Because the road sign was circular: a command. Bridge height warning signs can be either circular, like this one, or triangular: which is a warning, (not a command). I did once handle a case for a client whose driver was prosecuted for driving under a bridge with a circular sign, when (it was alleged) his vehicle was over the marked height. It was a curious case, as the prosecution had no evidence of the height, and the operator had measured it after the event to show that the law had not been broken. Unsurprisingly the case came to nothing and was abandoned without a trial.

However, it is as well for operators and drivers to be aware of the distinction between the two types of sign, circular and triangular. If the sign is circular, then if a vehicle is above the posted height it will be illegal for the driver to pass under the bridge – even if he can clear it.

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