Thursday 11 April 2013

Blinded by the Sun, M'lord

As a vulnerable road user I view certain law firms with great suspicion. I'm sure you know the type of law firm that I am talking about, the type that boasts about the fact that it got,

'Mr Jones off of a speeding conviction because we exposed some technical issue that prevented the prosecution'

Justice requires a robust defence and so these law firms are a necessary evil, although I would prefer that they would not boast about such cases. However, doing an internet search for something else I came across this particular 'boast' on one particular law firms website:

Successful defence of Careless Driving Charge

Following a trial before Mold Magistrates Court, North Wales, today, our client was found not guilty of a charge of driving without due care and attention or careless driving, an offence which is committed when a persons driving falls below that expected of a “competent and careful” driver.

The case arose from our clients involvement in a road traffic collision with a cyclist on a stretch of dual carriageway. The collision had occurred when our client had moved from lane 2 (the outside lane) to lane one, and being momentarily blinded by the sun which was low on the horizon, had not seen the cyclist and collided with him.

Neil Davies, Principal Solicitor, represented the client before the court and made detailed legal submissions, that despite the current ”blame culture”, accidents, whether they are considered coincidence or acts of god do still happen, and the occurrence of an incident does not necessarily mean that someone must be to blame. In the context of the case Mr Davies submitted that whilst there had been a collision, it had occurred as the result of this momentary blinding and that in all other ways the standard of our clients driving had met the standard expected of a “competent and careful driver”.

Following a short period of deliberation, the magistrates returned their verdict and accepted that our clients driving had not fallen below the standard of driving expected and that this was very much an accident, therefore he was acquitted. The court also granted a defendant costs order, which now allows us to recover our clients legal costs on his behalf.

Needless to say, our client was happy at avoiding 6-9 penalty points or possible disqualification and a fine, and considered it an added bonus that he will now recover his legal costs.

I have to say, upon reading this I got very angry.

Of course, before I go any further I should point out that I do not know all the facts of the case. I was not in court and I did not hear any of the arguments. However, as this statement is from the defence lawers themselves it does hold some weight, and explains why they felt that their client 'got off'. Therefore, I will base what I write from now on on the fact I have available.

As someone who cycles and drives on dual-carriageways, if I did what was described above, I would fully expect to be found guilty. Why? Let's look at the facts as described above. The sun was low on the horizon, and it would appear was in front of the driver. Therefore, any reasonable driver would be expected to know that in such situations, blinding by the sun could be an issue. Therefore, any reasonable driver in such a situation should adjust their driving to take account of this.

Yes indeed, it is possible that the sun did momentarily blind the driver, but the driver in conditions where the sun is low in the horizon should be aware that this is a possibility. Any reasonable driver would therefore drive more cautiously, wear sunglasses (no mention is made of any being or not being worn), and look well ahead on the road and make sure you can see clearly before undertaking a manoeuvre.If enough care is taken, being momentarily blinded should not result in a collision with a cyclist.

I find the suggestion that, suggesting a driver is at fault for not taking into account the conditions in which they are driving is part of a 'blame culture', insulting. In fact we do not live in a 'blame culture', we live in a 'we all need to drive and we need to use our car to get to where we want to get fast, so therefore, any suggestion that we should slow down and take responsibility for the fact that our actions can lead to serious injury or death is unacceptable' culture.

Remember I say this as a driver as well as a cyclist.

The blame in this instance was on the sun. The blame was on the cyclist for being too small a vehicle that when faced with the sun, the driver couldn't see the cyclist. Cyclists need to be bigger, they needed to take up more of the drivers visual space. The blame was on the tree or the hedge, or the road sign that just so happened to have a gap that let the sun through at the wrong moment (do cyclist appear in moments?). The blame is anywhere where it serves to protect the rights of the driver whilst minimising the rights of anyone else to expect to remain safe from other road users.

What angered me most though about the above lawyer 'boast' was the trivial way that the cyclist was treated in the commentary. It mentions that the driver and their car was in a collision with a cyclist. There is no mention of any sympathy for that cyclist. No mention of the driver being happy that (and I hope this is the case) the cyclist escaped with minor injuries, or recovered well from more serious ones. Oh no.

Their client was happy to avoid some points on their licence, a possible disqualification or a fine, and he will now recover his legal costs.

Happy days indeed.

Well done to the driver. well done to Caddick Davies Solicitors.........and God help the rest of us.


  1. Ah, but the motorist didn't think he needed to mollify their speed -- conditions were normal, till he just happened to collide with the cyclist at the exact same time (and for a split second only) as the sun blinded him.

    So how could it be anything other than an unfortunate accident.

    Any suggestion that the driver deliberately changed lanes in order to mow the cyclist down on purpose is pure conjecture.

    This otherwise law-abiding, hard-pressed, tax-paying citizen, was not at fault.

  2. Also suggests a driver is only expected to look a set distance in front. Surely when the driver did have good visibility, before the sun blindness, he should have scanned the road well ahead and have noticed a cyclist ahead.

  3. Well, Fame Monster, if the driver didn't scan the road ahead, he's guilty of DWDCA.

    And if he did, and didn't see the cyclist at all, then being momentarily blinded by the sun is largely irrelevant.

    However, if he did scan the road ahead and see the cyclist, then moving into the cyclist's lane at the exact same time as the cyclist was cycling along would make him guilty of DWDCA, since he can't then use what appears to be a pre-made excuse to get off as he knew already there was a cyclist in the lane into which he was moving.

    In other words, this I-was-momentarily-blinded-by-the-Sun excuse seems all just a little too contrived.

    Know what I mean?

  4. It's always the drivers fault where cyclists are concerned. I mean what the fuck was a cyclist doing on a dual carriageway? I struggle to have any sympathy for cyclists who get injured on our roads.

  5. Perhaps, Harry, the cyclist was going somewhere. You know, back home from work to their family, or going to work, and this route was the only one available.

    But don't let anything like that get in the way of your prejudices.

    After all, why be reasonable when you can needlessly victim blame.

  6. This is perhaps the right point to say that whilst the driver is happy with the outcome of the criminal case, I would hope that the follow through of the civil case, takes this 'gloat factor' into account when he is found liable (ie guilty).

    It reinforces the need for campaigners to stop equating the call for presumed liability with this idea of strict (implied criminal) liability, and that what we need is to bring the law on the roads in line with the law in all other places, where the person operating any machinery that has the capacity to kill or maim automatically carries the Duty of Care for not harming those in proximity to their activity.

    If you are using a chainsaw, or a shotgun, just like driving you need a licence, and the law will take a fairly dim view of you if you fail to have third party insurance cover for when you use them. Just like cars, for guns both the object and the user are recorded by licensing systems.

    So please do keep up that pressure but know what the issue is - an automatic presumed liability. It is not a rigid and strict blame, on any driver involved in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian, for a criminal offence. The sooner we get that issue decoupled from the case the quicker we can align with most of the rest of Europe.

    I do however find the actions of the solicitors involved deplorable and offensive, but it highlights a good reason not to use them if they can make such a poor call on commonsense in such matters. I might have some respect for them if they did realise what they have done and make an equally public apology for this badly judged public statement in their advertising. Are you reading this Caddick Davies Solicitors?

  7. Just saw you on the telly. Good job. Hope you got the chance to put the driver right more forcefully off camera.

  8. The legal system is to blame for this. It's obvious the driver failed to check that the lane was clear before merging into it. That there was sun in his eyes should just mean he takes extra care, and holds back from changing lanes until he is certain it is clear. That he failed in this duty is pretty clear evidence of failing to take due care. But the real blame is with a legal system that rewards its own - magistrates who feel "compelled" to bow to "clever" defence arguments. The - rather logical - alternative would be to uphold the charge and resist such legal chicanery. But if all magistrates did that - it would bring the role and influence of solicitors into serious question. Not that they would allow such factors to sway them in carrying out the distribution of justice. What was my point again?

  9. Must admit the low sun in the spring mornings is a worry for me on one particular commute stretch; if I feel I'm squinting to see ahead I fear that the drivers behind me may not see me. To compound this there were a few frosty and sunny mornings this spring, so some 'drivers' were squinting into the sun through their partially de-frosted windscreens; this really winds me up!