Do you get in a car if the driver has been drinking?

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With Christmas parties well underway and the latest police drink driving campaigns in force, people should know not to get into a car with a driver that they know has been drinking.  If that vehicle is then involved in an accident, as a passenger, they may not be fully compensated for any injuries sustained.

The courts take the view that if you are old enough to know right from wrong, then you have to take responsibility for making the decision to get into the car with a drunk driver.

In Gleeson v Court (2007) the Judge was required to determine the issue of contributory negligence following a road traffic accident in which the claimant, Gleeson, was injured. The defendant, Court, who was driving the car, admitted liability.

Court and Gleeson were friends, and had been out for the evening drinking with others.  At the end of the evening, they all got into Court's hatchback car to drive home. As they could not all fit on the seats Gleeson volunteered to travel in the boot.    

Court drove too fast and as a result lost control and hit a safety barrier.   Gleeson was thrown out of the back of the car and injured. Court pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol.   Gleeson pursued a compensation claim. 

Court's insurance company argued that Gleeson was partly to blame for his injuries (legal terminology contributory negligent) in electing to travel in the car when he knew or ought to have known that the driver was drunk and also for agreeing to travel in the boot, which in itself was illegal!

One thing we have to remember in a case like this is that Court was at fault for the accident as:

  • He drove when affected by alcohol;
  • He drove too fast;
  • He lost control of his vehicle;
  • He allowed Gleeson to travel in the boot of his car.

On the evidence presented, Gleeson;

  • knew Court had had far too much to drink to be driving, and
  • he agreed to get in the boot of the car.


It was agreed that Gleeson should be subject to a deduction of at least 20% for travelling in the car with someone who is drunk.  The question was what additional penalty should be imposed for him travelling in the boot with no seatbelt. The general rule is that 25% should be deducted for a passenger who does not wear a seatbelt.  This is correct, if a seatbelt would have prevented all injuries.  The rule comes from the case of Froom v Butcher (1976).

In the present case, Gleeson got into the  car knowing that the Defendant was drunk and also travelled in the boot knowing it was both illegal and there was no seatbelt available.  Should 45% be deducted by simply adding the figures of 20% and 25% together?  The answer of the Judge was no.  Such a deduction would have made Gleeson and Court almost equally responsible.  We must remember that it was Court who caused the accident.    Thus, the Judge decided that Gleeson's compensation should be reduced by 30%.

30% in a minor accident may not seem very much, but in a catastrophic injury case, 30% could amount to a 6 or 7 figure sum, which could have very significant consequences for someone's future care and well-being.



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