An Acceptable Death

28 October 2014

Here we are once again: The sun exists, therefore fatal road collisions are legally inevitable.

A death (with no recognised cause)

In October 2012, Stan Coates was hit by not just one, but two drivers. The first, Michael Elton, driving into low sun, failed to see him and hit him, injuring him. Whilst exchanging details, they were both struck by Edward Peverley’s vehicle; Elton was thrown into the bushes whilst Coates was dragged up the road and suffered further serious injury. Coates died of his injuries the following day.

Both Elton and Peverley were initially charged with causing death by careless driving. However, neither were found guilty of causing death: Elton was found guilty only of careless driving (and was fined £400), whilst Peverley was cleared of all charges. Despite explicitly noting that the victim was blameless, the law again failed to explicitly recognise any cause for his death.

It has also, in the case of Peverley, failed to acknowledge that driving a car into two people is even “careless”. Such driving apparently is not “below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver”. Such is the wording of The Road Traffic Act 1988 and, as a result of that wording, this is how far the bar has been lowered: driving into people is considered competent.

Now, I’m sure most people reading this will have read At The Going Down of The Sun and In The Morning (if you haven’t, please do) so I’ll not reiterate the points in there.

But there is an additional and no less startling point that stands to be made.

Inevitability

Of particular note in this case is one comment made by the judge, Paul Sloan QC:

The jury no doubt concluded on the evidence that the collision would or may have occurred in any event, had you slowed to an appropriate speed.

Got that?

Note the last phrase.

Now, let us consider the definition of “an appropriate speed”.

The definition of “an appropriate speed” in this legal case is, according to that comment, a speed at which a potential collision is deemed to be inevitable. A speed at which the driver cannot avoid hitting a stationary person. A speed at which the driver is unable to avoid hitting, well, potentially anything.

Is that “appropriate”? Or would it be appropriate to—well, shall we ask The Highway Code?

hc-154-237

Unfortunately, of course, we all know that The Highway Code is explicitly not a factor in determining whether a driver is competent, so there’s no reason why we should refer to it. I might just as well have included a page from The Tale of Peter Rabbit, because it carries the exact same legal weight.

Our conclusion in terms of case law is this:

To drive such that a collision becomes inevitable is not dangerous, nor is it even careless: it is acceptable.

This is precisely what the judge is telling us.

And this is precisely why the law is absolutely unfit for purpose when it comes to enforcing safe use of the roads.

Comments

  1. Robert Littlewood 28 October 2014 1:47pm #

    I guess you’ve also seen this priceless comment from the CTC forum: (http://forum.ctc.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=91519),

    “Have they never driven a car with the sun in their eyes and not been able to see to clearly what was on the road under the shaded trees? Add a wet road (not difficult at this time of year) and the driver is relying on instinct!”

    referring to cyclists who wear black.

    “Relying on instinct”, means “driving without being able to see or stop”.

    I wonder if the learned judge’s use of the phrase “no doubt” was intended to express his own scepticism as to the correctness of the verdict. If so, then his words could be taken to mean: “The jury has come to an illogical conclusion not supported by the evidence (but of course I’m not allowed to say that except in code)”.

    • Bez 28 October 2014 2:17pm #

      I have seen that thread, yes 😉

  2. Robbie Burns 28 October 2014 9:06pm #

    Another nail hit firmly on the head. Thank you.

  3. chrisrust 29 October 2014 1:09pm #

    When I saw what the judge said I did think that maybe the jury were allowing motorists’ herd mentality to cloud their judgement. But on the other hand it’s down to the prosecution to make the case.

    It does seem they didn’t do their job here. So many cases where a driver’s reckless action can be clearly seen to put others in danger but when the music stops and the inevitable collision finally happens the cry goes up “it could happen to anyone.”

    Well yes it could, if they drive with reckless disregard for the safety of others.

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