Paul Burkinshaw, Partner, Harrowells Solicitors gives advice on leaving mud on the roads

With the return of wet weather, we are likely to experience mud on roads as a by-product of normal farming operations.

The NFU actually released a briefing note for farmers on the liabilities of mud on roads some time ago in the latter part of 2012.

The advice and information contained within it remains good to this day.

As such, farmers are legally obliged to clear up after themselves and are potentially liable for a range of offences. The powers available to the police and highways departments in dealing with issues that may arise fall primarily fall under the Highways Act 1980.

Various sections of the Act make it an offence to deposit mud on the highway that would interrupt other users of the highway and gives the relevant Highways Authority the power to clean the road and recover its expenses from the person causing the obstruction.

Contravention can lead to a fine of up to £1,000 in a Magistrates Court. Furthermore if mud on the road leads to a personal injury, damage to property or any loss or inconvenience, then the person responsible may be liable for damages. A conviction through the Magistrates Court for a criminal offence and may be relied upon in any claim for damages.

So what should you do? Be prepared to hire equipment to clean up in advance, keep to your own farm roads and minor roads wherever possible; keep to low speeds, especially when travelling a short distance, to help retain mud on the vehicle and record your decisions in writing whether or not you deployed signs and/or cleaned the road.

What you must do? Do everything possible to prevent mud being deposited on the road. This includes cleaning mud from vehicles as far as practical before they are taken on the road. If there is a danger of mud being accidently deposited on the road use “slippery road” signs with a “mud on road” sub plate to alert other road users. Check with your local Highways Authority their requirements for warning signs at the side of the road. Clean the road as necessary during the working day and always at the end of the working day. Ensure that labour and equipment is available and is suitable for the soil and the weather conditions present.

Where a contractor is used, ensure that prior agreement is reached on who is responsible for mud on road issues (signage, cleaning, etc.) and ensure that adequate liability insurance is in place. Given the increasing use of contractors for heavy work reaching agreement as to their liability and recording it in writing is important. Ultimately the landowner/user would be liable if there had been a failure to reach an initial agreement on these points.