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Driving Within the Speed Limit May Still Be Too Fast - High Court Ruling

Excessive speed causes more road accidents than anything else and, depending on the prevailing conditions, even a motorist who is driving within the speed limit may be going too fast. The High Court made that point in finding a veteran cab driver 50 per cent responsible for a collision in which a young pedestrian suffered catastrophic injuries.

The woman was on a night out in a city centre when the cab hit her as she crossed the road. Her head struck the ground, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. A personal injury claim was launched against the cab driver, who had 40 years' professional driving experience. He was adamant that he was driving at a safe speed when the woman ran into his path, giving him no opportunity to stop in time.

Ruling on the case, the Court found on the evidence that the driver was travelling at 20 mph when the collision occurred, well within the 30 mph speed limit, and was keeping a proper lookout. He was aware of the risk of pedestrians straying into the road without taking care for their own safety. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the woman as she ran into the road, and hit the brakes in an attempt to avoid her.

It was, however, late on a Saturday night and there were crowds of pedestrians on either side of the road, many of them emptying out of nearby pubs and bars. In those circumstances, a safe speed would have been no more than 15 mph. In exceeding that speed, the driver had fallen below the standard of a reasonable and prudent motorist. Expert accident reconstruction evidence established that, had he been going at 15 mph or less, the collision would not have occurred.

The Court found that it was the woman who created the dangerous situation, having run into the road without looking. On the other hand, the driver was at the wheel of a potentially lethal instrument and, had he been driving at a reasonable speed, she would have escaped injury. The Court's ruling meant that she was entitled to half the compensation that she would have received had the driver been found fully to blame. Even after a 50 per cent deduction, however, her injuries were so serious that she was bound to receive very substantial compensation.