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Safety on our roads — our duty of care

21st November 2016

This week (21st-27th November, 2016) is the Brake charity’s Road Safety Week, a good opportunity for us all, as road users, to think about how safely we drive, ride, walk or run.

As emphasised earlier this year by a recent Court of Appeal case, the nature and extent of our duty of care to each other very much depend upon particular circumstances. Judges are sometimes criticised for their findings — think of the recent High Court Brexit ruling — so taking a closer look at a case from a judge’s perspective can be illuminating.

In Scott v Gavin (June 2106), a “very drunk” man had walked along the pavement, ignoring a crossing place before suddenly running out into the road towards an oncoming moped. The rider was proceeding at the 30mph limit although it was argued on behalf of the pedestrian that he should have been travelling at 20mph, in which case the collision could have been avoided. The court ruled that the moped rider was doing nothing wrong, he was travelling at the speed limit on a long straight section of road with no visible hazards. It was not foreseeable that the pedestrian would suddenly run out, at some distance from the crossing, so the rider was under no duty to slow down in advance. When the man did run out, the rider took evasive action, braking and steering to try to avoid him, but a collision was inevitable and it was entirely the pedestrian’s fault.

The legal outcome would have been different if, for example, the pedestrian was knocked down whilst crossing the road near or at the crossing point. Road users are of course expected to anticipate potential hazards and slow down ready to brake and stop if necessary. Courts are (as a rule) sensible, and do not expect the impossible of people. At the same time it is recognised that drivers are in control of a potentially dangerous ‘weapon’ and must often take the lion’s share of blame if a pedestrian who is there to be seen is struck and injured.

We should all, as road users, think about how safe we are: do we ever take a chance when pulling out, not slow down for a crossing, or perhaps even allow our dog a long lead on a cycle path? Road Safety Week is a good opportunity — not only to reflect but also to act — to help make our roads and paths safer.

Paul Fretwell. Partner, personal injury department

George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog
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