Court dismisses motorcyclist’s injury claim after bus collision

  • A motorcyclist who was badly hurt after driving into the path of a bus pursued a personal injury claim against Newcastle City Council
  • The claimant argued the sequencing of the traffic lights near where the accident occurred was unsafe
  • The judge said that even where junctions are controlled by traffic lights, drivers have a duty to check it is safe to proceed

A judge has dismissed a personal injury claim against Newcastle City Council, which centred on whether the sequencing of a set of traffic lights had contributed to a serious road traffic collision.

Background

The claimant was undertaking his motorcycle driving test, and was faced with two lanes of oncoming traffic at a light-controlled junction – the offside lane for ordinary traffic, and the nearside lane for buses.

Noting that the oncoming ordinary traffic was stationary and that a green light was displayed for him (albeit not a filter light), the claimant turned right. However, while the oncoming ordinary traffic was held at a red light, a green light was displayed for the oncoming bus lane. The claimant turned into the path of a moving bus, suffering injuries.

He subsequently pursued a claim against Gateshead Council, which had designed the junction, and Newcastle City Council, which had designed the phasing of the traffic lights.

The claimant asserted that the junction and phasing of the traffic lights constituted a ‘trap’, in that it was unsafe for the oncoming bus lane to show a green light when the adjacent lane was on red, and that a driver turning right across those lanes should be able to assume that both lanes showed the same light.

The junction in question had been constructed ten years before the accident, and nine other similar incidents had been reported in that period.

The junction was in the process of being redesigned at the time of the collision and the phasing of the traffic lights was amended at a later date.

The decision

His Honour Judge Freedman noted that highways authorities owe duties to road users to exercise reasonable care and skill in designing junctions and traffic light sequencing, but no duty to review, revise or upgrade those designs.

Further, the fact that the lights were phased to allow a longer green light on the bus lane was not unusual, and did not expose drivers exercising reasonable care when turning right to a foreseeable danger. Where there is no filter light for right-turning traffic, the burden to check that no vehicles are in the lanes to be crossed remains on the right-turning driver.

Dismissing the claim, the judge recalled the observations of Lord Justice Hoffman in Stovin v Wise: “Drivers of vehicles must take the highway network as they find it. Everyone knows that there are hazardous bends, intersections and junctions. It is primarily the duty of drivers of those vehicles to take due care.”

Commentary

This judgment is a helpful reminder that where junctions are controlled by traffic lights, their presence does not remove the duty on drivers to check that it is safe to proceed.

DAC Beachcroft acted for Newcastle City Council in this claim.