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.
In his recent judgment in Taylor v Gateshead Council and Newcastle City Council, His Honour Judge Freedman reminded us of those observations of Lord Justice Hoffman from his judgment in Stovin v Wise.
Taylor, who was undertaking his motorcycle driving test, suffered injuries when he turned right at a traffic light-controlled junction. Faced with two lanes of oncoming traffic, the offside lane for ordinary traffic and nearside for buses, and noting that the oncoming ordinary traffic was stationary and a green light was displayed for him (albeit not a filter light), the Claimant turned right. Unfortunately, whilst the oncoming ordinary traffic was held at a red light, a green light was displayed for the oncoming bus lane; the Claimant turned right into the path of a bus, suffering injuries.
The Claimant presented a claim against the Highways Authority which had designed and was responsible for the junction, Gateshead Council, and Newcastle City Council which had designed the phasing of the traffic lights at the junction.
The junction in question had been constructed ten years before the Claimant's accident, in which period nine other similar incidents had been reported. 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 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; he pursued his claim to trial.
His Honour Judge Freedman noted that the authorities owed duties to road-users to exercise reasonable care and skill in designing the junction and the 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 out of the ordinary 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.
The Claimant's claim was dismissed.
This judgment is a helpful reminder of the fact that, whilst junctions may be controlled by traffic lights, their presence does not remove the duty on drivers to check that it is safe to proceed.