Who Owns The Roads?
Whenever we see things on Social Media or watch YouTube videos showing dashcam footage displaying abnormal driving behaviours e.g. speeding vehicles or cars cutting up cyclists, it’s clear to see there’s animosity between the different types of road users.
Cyclists plead with car drivers for more room and to be treated with the same respect as other road users. Car drivers see cyclists as annoying and difficult to spot, and claim that they get in the way. Pedestrians are seen by both groups as unaware and unpredictable lemmings with little road sense.
From a legal perspective, the responsibilities of these three groups differs greatly.
Car drivers rarely seem to appreciate that the chassis they are sitting in is made out of steel and this is a very strong material capable of causing serious or even fatal damage to a cyclist or a pedestrian (when driven at a reasonable speed).
There’s an air of arrogance about some car drivers. Of course, roads are designed for cars, they belong to the car driver, why should they have to slow down for cyclist?
Unfortunately, by the time a car driver has come to the realisation of the potential damage and injury a motor vehicle can cause, it is usually too late to do something about it.
The law expects car drivers to understand that they are by far the least vulnerable of the three groups and as such, their duty of care is greater. It is generally considered that moving vehicles can be deemed “lethal weapons”.
There are a number of supportive cases where the lay person may give a certain degree of sympathy to the car driver. These are cases where a pedestrian has stepped out from between parked cars, or has been negotiating up the middle of the road in an intoxicated condition. In many of these cases, the car driver has not be exonerated from any blame. An example of this was in the case of Lunt –v- Khelifa. In this case, Mr Lunt stumbled into the road having been three times over the drink-drive limit. Although Mr Lunt was deemed to be partially at fault, he was still awarded two-thirds of his claim for compensation. This means that the car driver was found to be two-thirds at fault. The duty of care on car drivers is magnified when it comes to children.
The Highway Code describes children as being particularly vulnerable and additional care should be taken when a driver is likely to be in the vicinity of children. This is even more apparent the younger the children are. In the case of Rehman –v- Brady, a 7-year-old child attempted to cross the road near her home having been beckoned by her mother who had already crossed. The road was subject to a 20 mph speed limit and had traffic calming measures. There were also parked cars on either side of the road. Brady alleged that the child had simply “run” out in front of the car. The Court found that Brady had been driving above the limit (at approximately 28 mph and 32 mph) and that given that there were pedestrians around and the time of day it was, Brady should have been alerted to the fact that there could have been children around. The claim of Rehman succeeded on a 100% basis.
This goes to demonstrate that commonly used terms like, “he/she came out of nowhere”, and “there was nothing I could have done”, are not likely to succeed in a Court of law. The Court expects a car driver to anticipate and assess the potential risks and take action to avoid a possible car accident.
That said, there are some circumstances where a pedestrian can be held entirely responsible. In the case of Barry – v-MacDonald a pedestrian, by his own admission, stepped off the kerb without looking. He knocked the motorbike rider off his bike and sustained fatal injuries. The lack of awareness and failure to consider the possibility that a vehicle could have been on the road, cost the motorcyclist his life.
A similar level of vulnerability applies to cyclists. After pedestrians, pedal cyclists are considered the most vulnerable road users in terms of personal injury. This can be magnified when it is a child riding the bicycle, particularly a child under the age where one would expect them to have a degree of road sense.
In the case of Russell –v- Smith & Another, a 10-year-old child attempted to cycle across the road and cycled into the path of oncoming traffic. The Courts awarded the child 50% of their compensation.
We cannot overlook the publicity that charities such as THINK! are generating with their road safety awareness advertisements. Unfortunately, however; much more educating needs to be done. Until all road users learn to respect and appreciate that the roads are there for all parties to utilise, avoidable accidents will continue to occur. One must appreciate the potentially fatal consequences of forgetting that fact.