Motorists who believe that it is always safe to drive just below the speed limit are guilty of a fundamental misunderstanding of the Highway Code. A judge made that point in guaranteeing substantial compensation for a child who was run down and severely injured at a light-controlled pedestrian crossing.
A motorist was driving her accustomed route to work on a dark and rainy Monday morning when she struck the 12-year-old girl, who sustained life-changing head injuries. The lights were green in the motorist's favour and she was travelling at 28mph, just below the prevailing 30mph speed limit.
After a personal injury claim was brought against her on the child's behalf, she adamantly denied that she was in any way to blame for the accident. Her view was that she was driving at the optimum speed and that the child simply stepped into her path, giving her no opportunity to stop in time.
Ruling on the case, the judge noted that it is a common misconception that driving just below the speed limit is always reasonable and competent. Speed limits are not a target or an infallibly safe measure. They represent an absolute upper limit that is only justified if weather conditions and the road situation are sufficiently good to permit it. That was, essentially, the error that the motorist fell into.
Her approach to the Highway Code was also flawed in that her focus was on her own safety rather than the possible impact of her driving on other road users. Having travelled the same route very many times before, she was not paying sufficient attention. It was likely that there was an element of autopilot in her driving.
In ruling her chiefly responsible for the accident, the judge found that she was not driving through a residential area with the safety of children in mind. Given the wet and gloomy conditions and the presence of children at a nearby bus stop, a speed of 20mph would have been reasonable. Had she been travelling at that speed the collision would probably not have occurred.
The judge acknowledged that, even judged by the standards of a 12-year-old, the child was negligent in stepping into the road when the lights were against her. He ruled, however, that the motorist bore 60 per cent responsibility for the accident. If not agreed, the child's compensation will be assessed on that basis at a further hearing.