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