of the most common items of street furniture out there
is trying to kill you, and you don’t have to ride outside
the law for it to jump out and bite you. You can be the most law-abiding
rider on the road, always staying within the speed limits, observing
the Highway Code, exercising perfect road positioning and traffic
awareness and respect for other road users. Even wearing a reflective
Sam Browne belt isn’t going to do you any good. It’s
just waiting for some rain – and you.
I’m talking manhole
Sooner or later one of these innocuous
pieces of metal is going to try and separate you from your bike
and throw the both of you down the road. And it will do it without
feeling or remorse or even a scratch, to itself that is –
you and your bike are a different matter altogether, and most of
the time it won’t even get the blame. “The motorcyclist
failed to take full account of the prevailing road conditions, skidded
and caused the accident to occur” So it’s your fault
that there’s a slippery piece of cast iron in the middle of
an otherwise grippy piece of tarmac.
I fully appreciate that in a society that’s so dependant on
the essentials of a clean water supply, adequate drainage, and gas,
telephone and electricity services, we have to have pipes and conduits
buried underground to carry all these things that we take so much
for granted. And it makes sense for them to run under roads and
paths as it makes things easier for the suppliers to have access
for maintenance and repair (would you want to have BT digging a
hole in your living room floor to fix a cable fault?). And they
need to have manholes for access, and they need to be sited at pipework
junctions and bends as that is where most of the problems occur.
But do the covers have to have
a wet grip factor like a frozen lake?
Surely, in this day and age it’s
possibly to produce a manhole cover with a surface that has the
same grip as the tarmac it’s set in? I’m a 110% certain
that it is, but I expect that no one can be bothered to do anything
about it because a) it only affects bikers, or b) they can’t
get the funding for the same reason, or c) it will cost too much.
Now just suppose the situation
where manhole covers had to be 20 feet square? Can you imagine what
would happen when a car comes round a corner on a rainy day and
hits 400 sq. ft. of wet, polished steel? It would be off the road
in an instant, probably demolishing
a house and taking out a couple of pedestrians in the process .
. . and there’d be a public outcry! Why?, because there’s
26 million cars out there, which means 26 million voices to be heard
and 26 million votes in the next election! A government inquiry
would be set up and funds allocated for research into a new manhole
cover design, followed by a programme of replacement or modification
of existing units. If the problem only affected bikes then that’s
just 500,000 of the population at the most, so that’s not
so important is it? Or do you think I’m being too cynical?
Well how about this then. Not far from where I live, the council
recently Shellgripped an entire roundabout and about eighty feet
of each of the approach roads. In the middle of the roundabout they
left two lovely, shiny manhole covers.
As far as costs are concerned,
in spite of what anyone may say, I suspect that it’s really
not going to be that much. We’re talking about a solution
for tens of thousands of units here, so the additional cost for
each manhole cover isn’t going to be a lot, especially compared
against the cost of an accident caused by a nice wet shiny cover.
This isn’t a problem that’s unique to the UK, so the
opportunities for overseas sales are immense, which would bring
production costs down still further. Or the technology to produce
non-slip manhole covers could be licensed, further recovering the
R&D costs. And I wouldn’t expect all the covers to be
replaced overnight. Breakages occur on a regular basis, and this
would be the opportunity to fit a non-slip cover. Road re-surfacing
requires that the manhole covers be raised and re-fitted, so why
not replace it with a better type. Maybe there’s someone out
there who can tell me why this can’t be done. Come on TRL
or the UK Highways Agency, what’s the problem?
Perhaps at the end of the
day it’s all down to the fact that we as motorcyclists aren’t
making enough of a song and dance about the dangers out there on
the roads, and we only have ourselves to blame about that. So go
on, if you want something done, write to your MP, write to the papers,
write to government departments – and keep on writing until
something gets done. We’re in the minority as far as road
users are concerned, so if we want action then we’re all going
to have to shout just that little bit louder and longer.