When green means wait

When green means wait

Recently, I was cycling through temporary traffic lights. It was a long stretch, and although the light was green when I set off, a stream of cars came the other way before I was through. What would be the legal position if I had been hit by one of the oncoming vehicles?

David Scott

A In the event of a collision there would be two potential defendants: the motorist or the highway authority. I would anticipate problems in pursing a claim against the highway authority. There is a presumption in law that traffic lights are working correctly. Whilst the highway authority might be criticised for the phasing, it is difficult to show that the lights have been set incorrectly unless there is strong technical or anecdotal evidence to the contrary. In my view, it would be easier to establish liability on the part of the motorist.

The motorist could be criticised for failing to keep a proper lock out for oncoming traffic, especially cyclists (see Rule 211 of the Highway Code). The fact that the lights might have changed to green when the driver pulled away does not mean that he or she is able to continue if there is oncoming traffic. The motorist ought to stop or slow down and allow the cyclist to pass.

The leading case illustrating the duty of a motorist in this situation is Radburn v. Kemp [1971] 1 W.L.R 1502. In this case, the claimant cyclist came to a large road junction controlled by traffic lights. He wished to enter a street on the opposite side of the road but the lights were red against him. When the lights changed to green, he pulled away, but by the time he was two-thirds of the way across the junction, the light at the mouth of the street he was aiming for had changed to amber. He was then struck by a motor vehicle emerging from a street on his left. The defendant motorist claimed that the lights were green in his favour but he admitted to not seeing the claimant. At first instance, the court held that the cyclist was 50% to blame for not seeing the car.

Not surprisingly, this was overturned on appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the defendant, for whom the lights had just changed to green, was under a duty to ensure that there were no vehicles on the crossing which might still be passing across.

In my view, motorists always need to exercise extreme caution at temporary traffic lights, where phasing is often short. If I were instructed by an injured cyclist in this situation, I would be pretty confident of establishing liability in full against the motorist.

Note that from 1 April 2013, the Government has introduced a series of reforms that will result in fixed legal costs for lower value personal injury claims (claims below £25,000) and will no longer permit the recovery of success fees from defendants. Whilst it is still possible for claims to be funded under a CFA (no win, no fee arrangement) most claimant law firms are no longer offering 100% recovery of damages – usually there is a 25% retention of damages to meet legal fees. In the case of Cycling UK members, there will not be any reduction of damages to meet legal fees. The Cycling UK's legal services scheme is thus a valuable member benefit.

Paul Kitson

 

This was first published in the June / July 2013 edition of Cycle magazine.

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