On 6 May 2010, Steven Paterson was driving his Mazda towards Inverness on the A835. Approximately 1.5 miles North of the Braemore Junction he rounded a blind bend colliding with a stationary refuse vehicle which was parked on the opposite carriageway. At the time of the accident, the refuse vehicle was being overtaken by a yellow, Scania flatbed lorry.
The refuse vehicle was parked near the entrance to Braemore Square Country House. The exit of the blind bend was approximately 145 metres from the refuse vehicle.
As a result of this accident, Steven Paterson was charged with dangerous driving. Taking advice from his solicitor he pled guilty to the lesser charge of “driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users by driving at inappropriate speed and colliding with the refuse lorry” under s.3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. He received 5 penalty points and was fined £350.
Shortly after pleading guilty Steven Paterson had a change of heart. He considered his previous representation had been defective and contacted a solicitor with a view to appealing his conviction on those grounds. Upon realising the cost of pursuing the appeal he instead raised a civil personal injury claim at the Court of Session.
Steven Paterson as Pursuer sought damages from David Macleod, the driver of the refuse vehicle (First Defender), the Highland Council, David MacLeod’s employer (Second Defender), William Fraser, the driver of the Scania lorry (Third Defender) and his insurer, AXA (Fourth Defender).
The Pursuer’s argument was that he had taken “necessary evasive action” attempting to avoid the oncoming Scania lorry which was positioned in his lane and confronted him upon exiting the blind bend.
The Defenders denied liability alleging the accident was caused by the Pursuer’s sole fault, and/or fault on the part of the “other” Defender.
The case was heard by Lord Armstrong.
The Pursuer’s evidence was often not consistent with statements provided to the police under caution following the collision. His position at proof was that upon rounding the bend he noticed the refuse vehicle, he checked his rear-view mirror instructively, and upon turning back was faced with the Scania lorry blocking his carriageway. He felt a collision was inevitable. He did not emergency stop immediately, but rather considered his options. He felt that there may have been an opportunity to cross onto the opposite carriageway, brake and thereafter pass between the gap left by the overtaking Scania lorry and the refuse vehicle. He quickly realised this was not going to be possible, emergency braked and turned his vehicle to the left in order that he, and not his passenger bore the brunt of the collision.
The Pursuer’s difficulty was that in terms of the expert evidence if he was travelling at the speed he claimed (55 mph) upon exit of the blind bend he would have had time to bring his vehicle to a halt before colliding with the refuse vehicle. He was either not paying attention, or travelling far in excess of his claimed speed. He was faced with a “Catch-22”.
It perhaps did the Pursuer no favours that prior to the collision, despite driving a fourteen-year-old 1.4l Mazda 323 he managed to catch up with, overtake and move out of sight of a Porsche 911 the driver of which admitted to driving in excess of the speed limit.
In relation to the Pursuer Lord Armstrong found:
- That on approach to the blind bend, prior to the collision the Pursuer was travelling in excess of 60 mph
- The Pursuer braked in advance of the apex of the blind bend in order to reduce his speed to negotiate the bend.
- Upon emerging from the bend he was confronted by the refuse vehicle and Scania lorry
- He braked continuously to the point of impact with his wheels locked at the very least when crossing the centre line and when making a straight skid mark which led to the impact point.
- Given the assumed speed of his vehicle at impact, the extent of braking, the speed on negotiating the blind bend was far in excess of that appropriate to the road conditions.
- The Pursuer was driving carelessly, at a speed far in excess of what was appropriate for the road conditions. He could not stop within the distance that he could see to be safe.
In relation to the Second Defender Lord Armstrong found:
- They adopted a policy whereby refuse vehicles did not enter private premises as to do so would create undue difficulty with the size of the vehicle and also issues of health and safety involving a large vehicle entering private premises in that manner.
- That against that background by collecting the bins from Braemore Square Country House as they did, the Second Defenders were not in breach of regulation 26 of the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002.”
- The refuse lorry did not constitute a hazard by virtue of its bright yellow colour, flashing lights, size and presence of council employees wearing high visibility clothing.
- The presence of a stationary refuse lorry by the roadside is something which any appropriately careful motorist ought to be aware of.
In relation to the Third and Fourth Defenders Lord Armstrong found:
- That at the point of commencing the overtaking manoeuvre the road was clear, and the Pursuer was only visible upon passing the refuse vehicle.
- The driver of the Scania lorry was correct to consider that a vehicle travelling the opposite direction abiding by the speed limit and being driven by a driver paying due care and attention could have stopped.
Decree of absolvitor was granted for all defenders with the Pursuer being found solely at fault for the collision.
This case provides a timely reminder for those who often drive on the many A class roads in the Highlands that obstructions frequently occur and hazards should be expected and that one should always drive at a speed allowing them to stop within a distance that can be seen to be safe.
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