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Motorist claims comensation for damaged caused by illegal Metric Sign: Adam Doggett v. Broxbourne Borough Council

BWMA is indebted to Tony Bennett M.A. for this report and the accompanying photographs.

During February or March 2001, Mr Adam Doggett, a 36-year-old tube driver from Essex, was driving his young daughter to a party in Tottenham, North London, along a route unfamiliar to him. He approached, from east to west, the level crossing between Dobb's Weir, Essex, and Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. The gates were shut to allow a train to pass from the London Liverpool Street to Cambridge line.

To the side of the level crossing is a passageway underneath the railway, routinely used by cars to save time when the crossing is closed. Its height is 4' 7", high enough to allow nearly all saloon cars to pass through. Mr Doggett's car, a Suzuki jeep, was around 4' 9" in height.

Mr Doggett's Suzuki jeep

Approaching the level crossing, he saw cars using the passageway in both directions. He assumed it would be safe for him to use. The only height sign he saw - and the only one provided - was one saying '1.4m'.

Metric educated

Mr Doggett was metric educated at school. However, in everyday life he did not use metric units and certainly not when it came to heights. British weights and measures rather than the metric system is in common use at his place of work. He had no idea what '1.4m' meant, i.e. what the equivalent was in feet and inches. As he told us later: "If I'd known the passageway was less than 5 feet in height, I wouldn't have used it. I know my car's around 5 feet high. The figures '1.4m' meant absolutely nothing to me".

After entering the passageway, Mr Doggett's car stuck after scraping the roof of the passageway. He was unable to advance or reverse. He could only extricate himself by letting down the tyres of the car and reversing out. By the time he did so, there were scratch marks made by the concrete ceiling of the passageway all over his car roof.

The scraping caused to the Suzuki roof

Mr Doggett assumed he had no claim against anyone over the accident - until talking the matter over in his local pub with BWMA member Philip Ivey-Ray. Phil told Mr Doggett that metric-only height signs were illegal and advised him to make a claim. Mr Doggett said he would do so if he had some help. By this time he had not yet had the roof repaired. At a meeting in October 2001, BWMA agreed to allocate a sum of £500 to obtain a barrister's Opinion on the case, if needed.

We assisted him to make a claim. We advised him to get an estimate for the cost of repairing the car roof, which came to £442.18. Broxbourne Borough Council admitted that their records showed that at the time of the accident the only heights shown at the entrances to the passageway were in metric units. They further conceded that the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1994 required that bridge heights must always be shown in feet and inches, although a metric height could be added as an additional option.

In the meantime, in separate correspondence with Active Resistance to Metrication, the Council conceded that there should be a sign in imperial units at the crossing. Following our letter to them, they promptly erected a sign on each side of the passageway showing the correct height of 4' 7". On 24 January 2002 Mr Dawson, Head of the Council's Construction Services Department, wrote saying:

"I refer to my letter to you dated 31st December 2001. Having investigated the matter I am now in a position to report [that] both imperial and metric height restriction signs were erected on site during the week commencing 7th January 2002…may I thank you for taking the trouble to write".

They did not meet the claim without a struggle, however. Before paying out, they required to know the answers to several questions , including the reason for the delay in making a claim promptly and whether there were any witnesses. They also attempted to insist on Mr Doggett getting three estimates. It turned out that the Council was not insured against Mr Doggett's claim since the amount of his claim was below the Council's insurance policy excess. ARM assisted Mr Doggett with the correspondence throughout.

In a letter written for Mr Doggett on 13 April 2002, we threatened to bring a claim in the Small Claims Court if his case was not settled within 14 days (a so-called 'letter before action'). The Council decided to make payment in full shortly after receiving this letter.

Another view of the damaged roof

Comment

As we know, some Councils take a very relaxed attitude to metric signs, regarding it as a lot of fuss about nothing. A detailed account has been made of this case so that Councils may be reminded that they could face compensation claims if their road signs are not in accordance with the relevant Road Traffic Regulations. The consequences of misleading motorists by inadequate and illegal signing could be much worse than a car roof being scraped. Last year, another accident in which a lorry was badly damaged by an incorrect metric height was reported. It is not known whether compensation was paid out in that case but on the facts of the case, it appears almost certain that compensation would have been payable. The mistake had been made in attempting to convert an Imperial height into the metric equivalent. Whoever attempted that metric conversion under-calculated the correct metric equivalent by nearly a foot.

Mr Doggett has passed on the following message:

"I have been paid out by Broxbourne Council for the full amount of the estimated repair. I would like to thank you for your assistance in dealing with this matter and hope the British Weights and Measures Association and yourself continue fighting for our imperial measures. Yours sincerely, Adam Doggett".

BWMA wishes to hear of any other accidents or damage to vehicles due to metric-only signing. Contact details available from the link at the top right of this page.

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