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High Court Defines Drivers' Duties at Crossings

28th October 1955
Page 46
Page 46, 28th October 1955 — High Court Defines Drivers' Duties at Crossings
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Drivers Must Stop Before Reaching Zebra Crossings Unless They Can See No Pedestrians are Using Them By Our Legal Adviser

THE decision of the Divisional Court of the High Court last week in the case of Gibbons v. Kahl is of keen interest to road users of all kinds, including pedestrians, but it certainly carries a hint of menace in it so far as drivers are concerned.

Regulation 4 of the Pedestrian Crossings Regulations, 1954, provides: "Every foot-passenger on the carriageway within the limits of an uncontrolled crossing shall have precedence within those limits over any vehicle and the driver of the vehicle shall accord such precedence to the foot-passenger, if the foot-passenger is on the carriageway within those limits before the vehicle or any part thereof has come on to the carriageway within those limits."

Stripped of its verbiage, this regulation means that once a pedestrian has stepped on to the crossing any vehicle that has not yet started to cross the zebra strip must give way.

Rule Relaxed

There have been slight relaxations of this absolute rule in past decisions of , the Divisional Court, for as it stands it would appear to mean that if a pedestrian stepped off with a vehicle only a yard or two away, so that the driver had no hope of pulling up in time, the latter must automatically be found guilty of "failing to accord precedence" to him. Does it in fact mean anything so strict?

It has been held that merely because a pedestrian steps off the pavement, or

is already on the crossing, a driver is not bound to pull up if he can continue his course without causing inconvenience to the pedestrian. Thus, there may be many instances when a driver can safely continue, knowing that he can be over the zebra before the pedestrian reaches the-same spot. To do so is not "failing to accord precedence" to the pedestrian. To cause the pedestrian to slacken his 11, pace or to wait is, however, an offence.

Leicester v. Pearson (1952) was a case which seemed to assist drivers a good deal, and has been much prayed in aid in magistrates' courts by offending drivers ever

since. The effect of it was 011-"vk. n12

to say that the wording of the regulation (or, rather, its predecessor, similarly worded) was not as strict in its meaning as it appeared; that alla driver must do to conform with it was to use "reasonable endeavours" to accord the necessary precedence.

Here, obviously, was a vast loophole through which not merely a coach-andfour, but a complete articulated vehicle could be driven with impunity.

• Decision a Mistake

A selfish or unscrupulous driver=. and how many of us even momentarily fall into that category on occasions?— could simply aver that it was not practicable in the haste of the moment to accord the right of way. Courts faced with this plea obviously did their best to sort out the sheep from the .goats, but a puzzling element remained for magistrates to resolve, and in legal circles the decision was regarded as a mistake.

Now, in Gibbons v. Kahl, the defendant was faced with the situation which is probably the most potentially dangerous for pedestrians wanting to use a zebra crossing—the double line of traffic with the leading vehicle in the near-side lane inviting one to cross, but the intentions of the vehicles in the outer lane, as yet unknown.

The defendant was in the outer lane of traffic, when a trolleybus driver ahead of him on the inside stopped— after giving the correct hand signal to slow down—to allow three children to use the crossing some 20 yd. ahead. When the children were passing the front of the bus, the defendant drove his car slowly past the bus and knocked down one of them, who was then some 22 ft. into the zebra from the pavement.

He was charged with driving without due care and attention and with failing to accord precedence to a pedestrian. In evidence it also appeared that the defendant knew that he was approaching a crossing, that he observed the bus driver's signal and was able to see everything in front of him clearly, but that he was unable to see the children until they had passed in front of the bus.

The magistrates .thought that there was some doubt as to whether the offence of driving without due care had been -committed and acquitted the defendant of that charge. As regards the other offence, they were also in doubt as to whether he had negligently failed to accord precedence, and acquitted him of that too.

The Divisional Court, pointing out on an appeal by the police that it did not follow automatically that if a breach' of the Regulations was committed a driver was also guilty of driving with due care, refused to disturb the acquittal on that charge. They allowed. the appeal on the other charge, however, and remitted the case for• sentence to the magistrates.

It follows that Leicester v. Pearson went too far. The Court indicated that it was only in the most exceptional circumstances that such a decision could occur, and the circumstances in that case had been exceptional.

"Stop on a Sixpence"

The only safe course for drivers to take upon approaching a crossing, part of which is obscured by another vehicle, is to assume that pedestrians are using it and to be able to "stop on a sixpence."

Indeed, an analogy can be drawn with decided cases on accidents in fog, poor visibility and icy roads, when it has been said time and again that if a driver cannot see.anything or control his vehicle it is his duty not to proceed at all.

Lord Goddard again put this point of view when he said in the present case: "It was the duty of motorists to stop before they got to pedestrian crossings unless they could see that there was no one on the crossing. It was no answer to say that one could not see because. of a stationary vehicle on one's near side; one should assume that there was someone there."

I recommend every transport manager to exhibit in his garage a notice in these terms: "Take no chabces. If you cannot see whether a zebra crossing is clear— STOP."

That advice may sometimes be irksome, but only by following it can the

jadriver safeguard himself against the possible consequences of an accident.


Organisations: High Court, Divisional Court
People: Goddard
Locations: Leicester

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