25 Jun 2014

Surface Dressing On Roads May Be Cheap But It Is Dangerous

Over recent years councils and the Highways Agency have been applying surface dressing to our roads.  It is dirt cheap (£1.20 per square metre) but is dangerous for some road users.

Surface dressing involves spraying something called emulsion bituminous binder (aka sticky black muck) on to the existing road surface and then pouring aggregate chippings on top of it.  The traffic is then left to compact it.

This stuff is laid extremely quickly and those organisations who maintain our roads love it because it means they don't have to lay new roads so often as it lasts for 10 years.

An organisation called the Road Surface Treatments Organisation reckons, "The product can be likened to painting one's house. It needs doing before deterioration occurs and means that expensive preparation or replacement is not required."

I won't dispute that it is a half decent road surface once it has been laid for some time but it is during the first few weeks after application it is dangerous.

RSTO also say, "Accident levels will be reduced by restoring adequate skid resistance."
This surface dressing had been laid 24 hours before the photo was taken

This might be the case for cars and HGVs which are inherently stable as they've a wheel at each corner but for motorcycles it is supremely dangerous.

Any slippery surface is dangerous for bikers. If you come across a patch of gravel and you're in a corner or under braking you will lose grip and possibly crash.  Now imagine an entire road made of gravel.

It is hard work going in a straight line when surface dressing has been laid, and corners are horrendous.  Because it is left for the traffic to compact it we bikers have to try and stay in the tyre tracks of previous cars and trucks because to go elsewhere means riding on gravel.  This makes us vulnerable.

Yes we can ride slowly but then you get the traffic coming the other way who kick gravel up at us.  This affects not only bikers but cyclists, horse riders and even cars who'll suffer from chipped paintwork.

I recently rode down a quiet but fast B-road that had been laid with surface dressing four weeks before (I know because I saw some of it being laid) and it was still loose in those places where the tyres of cars and trucks hadn't compacted it.  This made for a rather hairy experience.

Take a look at the RSTO's info sheet on surface dressing.  It's very smug and comes up with all sorts of reasons why it should be used - but not once does it mention its dangers.

Surface dressing is laid for one reason - to save money.  And it's vile, horrible and dangerous.

By Matt Hubbard