Police officer involved in road incident

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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This case involved a collision between a car driven by the Defendant, and a police vehicle at a mini-roundabout. Both drivers were injured and the police officer sued. 

Lord Justice Underhill in the Court of Appeal said that it was not in dispute that both drivers were substantially at fault. The issue was their relative culpability. Underhill LJ said a fundamental factor in deciding the question of relative culpability was which driver had formal priority.

Paragraph 185 of the Highway Code required drivers reaching a roundabout to "give priority to traffic approaching from your right". Consequently a driver should not enter a roundabout if doing so would "inconvenience" any driver approaching from the right i.e. cause him or her to have to brake or deviate and that the drivers to whom priority must be given are not only those who are actually on the roundabout but also those who are approaching it and are sufficiently close to be inconvenienced by a driver entering the roundabout ahead of them. The Defendant's own expert referred to the police officer as having "right of way" and the experts in their joint statement agreed that when reaching the roundabout the Defendant was "required to give priority to traffic approaching from his right."

Underhill LJ did not accept that in the particular circumstances of this case the question of formal priority had great importance. The truth was that in a case where two drivers were approaching a mini-roundabout, one being closer but the other travelling faster, the rules about priority might not give a black-and-white answer. It was common ground that the police officer simply ignored the fact that the junction was a mini-roundabout. Instead of slowing to a speed at which she could have gone round the roundabout in a proper manner, she "just hared straight across it". That was a plain breach of paragraph 188 of the Highway Code.The police officer should have slowed down because she should have seen the Defendant's vehicle and anticipated the possibility of his entering the junction. However the Defendant was also at fault.

On the basis of that analysis of the drivers' respective culpability, Underhill LJ could not support the Judge's conclusion that the Defendant was more to blame than the police officer. Both were clearly seriously at fault in failing properly to appreciate what the other might do, and to adjust their driving accordingly. However in PC Richardson's case there was also the fact that she wholly ignored the existence of the mini-roundabout.

Underhill LJ apportioned blame 65% blame to the police officer and 35% blame to the Defendant.

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About the Author

Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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