Steven Smart: With highway code changes down the road, it’s still safety first message for cyclists
Greater use of bicycles is encouraged but cyclists, like all road users, have duties incumbent upon them to proceed safely, says Steven Smart.
One of the key items on the agenda at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow is cutting emissions by planning ahead for the electrification of all cars.
Cycle areas, paths and lanes have increasingly been introduced across the country in the meantime to encourage greater use of bicycles instead. However, even when travelling along designated routes, cyclists, like all road users, have duties incumbent upon them to proceed safely.
In the recent case of Gordon Wallace v David Roache & LV, the Sheriff Appeal Court had to assess what those duties might entail.
Mr Wallace raised an action for damages after he was involved in a collision with a car driven by Mr Roache. He had been cycling on the National Cycle Route 1, which runs adjacent to the A91 at St Andrews. The Senior Open Golf Championship was taking place at the Old Course.
An access road to Balgrove Golf Course was used as an entrance and exit for a temporary car park for visitors. A prominent sign was in place for cyclists to give priority to motorists on the access road. Mr Wallace was cycling at approximately 20mph and ignored the sign. He did not reduce his speed, nor did he look to towards the access road.
Mr Roache was emerging from the temporary car park at no more than 15mph and was found to be keeping a lookout for cyclists. As the car pulled out from the access road, Mr Wallace collided with it.
After a civil trial, the claim was unsuccessful on the basis that Mr Wallace failed to prove any fault or negligence on the part of Mr Roache.
He appealed the decision on the ground that the sheriff had erred in not concluding that it was reasonable for Mr Roache to have brought his vehicle to a complete halt or at least edged forward so that the front of his car would have been visible to Mr Wallace.
Mr Roache argued that it was the reckless conduct of Mr Wallace in contrast to his careful approach when exiting the car park that was the fundamental cause of the incident. He maintained that his driving was reasonable and that the collision was caused by Mr Wallace failing to pay heed to the sign by stopping or at least slowing down.
The Sheriff Appeal Court held that whether Mr Roache had taken reasonable care depended upon a variety of factors. The question was whether Mr Roache was taking sufficient precautions as he emerged from the access road? As he was travelling at no more than 15mph and was keeping a lookout, the Appeal Court agreed that Mr Roache had taken reasonable care.
Mr Wallace’s further proposition that Mr Roache should have brought his vehicle to a complete halt or edged forward amounted to a “counsel of perfection”. The duty incumbent upon Mr Roache was no more nor less than one to take reasonable care.
Furthermore, even if such a measure had been appropriate, expert evidence led by Mr Wallace could not determine that even if Mr Roache had come to a halt, the collision would have been capable of being avoided.
The appeal was therefore refused. The cause of the accident had correctly been identified as Mr Wallace’s failure to take reasonable care when cycling towards the access road.
A current consultation on the rules of the Highway Code proposes introducing a hierarchy of road users, arranged in order of those who are most vulnerable.
Proposed amendments to the rules being considered include emphasising that cyclists proceeding straight on at junctions will be presumed to have priority unless road markings or signs say otherwise, which is exactly the decision the court reached in this case. While the proposed amendments will seek to provide greater clarity and protection, cyclists remain under a duty to take reasonable care for other road users and, in particular, to pay heed to traffic signs.
Steven Smart is a partner at Horwich Farrelly. This article first appeared in The Scotsman.