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Motor Vehicle Accident – Breaches of Road Rules do not always indicate Negligence

In today’s current economic climate, increasing numbers of motorcyclists have been reported on Queensland roads. In order to alleviate further traffic congestion in built-up areas, several recent amendments to the Road Rules[1] have come into effect in Queensland. The new laws provide that:-

  • Lane filtering is legal in certain circumstances; and
  • Edge filtering is legal in certain circumstances.

Lane filtering operates to exist when a motorcyclist ‘filters’ though slow or stationary traffic. History shows that such an exercise is commonly executed in an attempt to proceed through congested traffic whilst other motorists are stationary at a red light. Likewise, edge filtering is an exercise whereby a motorcyclist ‘filters’ along the edge of slow or stationary traffic in circumstances where the relevant speed limits are in excess of 90 km/h. The policy behind edge filtering limits its use to high speed roads such as highways because these roads do not have the additional hazards of parked cars, pedestrians, cyclists and driveways.

Under the new laws[2], motorcyclists’ may lane filter if, and only when:-

  • They have an open license;
  • They do not travel faster than 30 km/h;
  • They are not in a school zone; and
  • It is safe to do so.

Similarly, motorcyclists’ may edge filter[3] in circumstances where:-

They have an open license;

  • The speed limit is 90 km/h or more;
  • They do not travel faster than 30 km/h;
  • They do not ride on any unsealed part of the road; and
  • It is safe to do so.

The new laws do not presume that motorcyclists’, when engaging in filtering, are afforded particular privileges or right of way. Motorcyclists’ may only engage in such practices when it is safe to do so in the particular circumstances that they are presented.

Given the rationale behind the new laws, and the inherent dangers involved in the execution of such conduct, it would be prudent to review the subtle nuances with respect to liability and potential claims for damages.

Case example: Goreski v de Costa

An example of circumstances where a motorcyclist breached his of duty of care is articulated in the recent Supreme Court decision of Chief Justice Murrell in Goreski v de Costa[4].

In that matter, a motorcyclist (“the Appellant”), heading east on Canberra Avenue, approached a congested intersection which was governed by a red light. The Appellant slowed to approximately 40 km/h and proceeded forward alongside the stationary traffic via a designated lane for cyclists. Immediately prior to reaching the intersection, the traffic lights illuminated green, and the Appellant accelerated to 80 km/h. The Appellant’s fast acceleration allowed him to merge into kerb side left lane in front of the aforementioned stationary traffic. Notably, the relevant speed limit was 90 km/h.

The driver of the third party motor vehicle (“the Respondent”), approached the relevant intersection from the north, with the intention of executing a left hand turn onto Canberra Avenue – into the path of the Appellant. The Respondent was governed by a ‘give way’ sign which required him to give way to all traffic already on Canberra Avenue.

The Respondent looked to his right twice, noting the other motorists at the lights, before entering Canberra Avenue at low speed. As the Respondent’s motor vehicle entered onto Canberra Avenue, he was struck by the accelerating Appellant whom impacted with the front driver’s side of his vehicle.

In the decision of the primary judge, her honour made reference to the decision of Sibley v Kais[5] wherein it was held that a breach of traffic law, in itself, does not establish that a motorist has acted negligently. Her honour went further to say that in determining whether there has been a breach of the common law duty of care, a Court must have regard to all of the circumstances.

In the relevant circumstances, although the Respondent had failed to give way to the Appellant, which was a requirement of entry onto Canberra Avenue, he had, on the balance of probabilities, executed all that a reasonably prudent driver in the same position, who was keeping a proper lookout, could be expected to do.

Her honour held that the Appellant:-

  • travelled too fast for the circumstances;
  • failed to keep a proper lookout; and
  • failed to take appropriate precautions for his own safety and by doing so put other road users at risk.

Theory behind the decision

Ultimately, each and every driver that approaches an intersection, regardless as to whether or not they are presented with a “give way” sign, has a duty to take reasonable care and to have the capacity to be able to avoid a collision if the circumstances so arise.

The degree and extent of the allowance a Court will give for unexpected behaviour by road users will depend on the degree of risk in the particular circumstances. On some occasions there will be competing risks, such as traffic lights, slip lanes and zebra crossings. When there are competing demands on a driver’s concentration, it is imperative that each and every one of these risks are carefully weighed and considered.

It goes without saying that motorcyclists are amoung the most vulnerable of all road users in Queensland due largely to the limited protection available. Motorcyclists’ must take appropriate precautions for their own safety, particularly when utilising the new amendments to the Road Rules.

Time Limitations

Strict time limitations are enforced in Queensland for motor vehicle claims. If you, or someone you know has been injured on a Queensland road, take the responsible approach and telephone Splatt Lawyers today on 1800 700 125 for an obligation free consultation.

Today’s blog was prepared by Liam Cannon (solicitor).

 

[1] Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Road Rules ) Regulation (2009)

[2] Section 151A Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Road Rules ) Regulation (2009)

[3] Section 151B Transport Operations (Road Use Management – Road Rules ) Regulation (2009)

[4] Goreski v de Costa[4] [2014] ACTSC 23

[5] Sibley v Kais (1967) 118 CLR 428

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