Monday, December 20, 2010

Driving to the Conditions

Six years ago on Wednesday afternoon, Deborah Slaght was driving on Highway 24, going home to Simcoe from her job in Brantford when a northbound driver lost control of his vehicle and slid into her lane, resulting in a collision, causing serious and permanent disability, forcing her to change careers (to one within her medical limitations) and changing her life in significant ways forever.

A week and a half ago, the Superior Court released its judgment in the civil action brought by Ms. Slaght against the northbound driver, and also against the owner of the vehicle, awarding more than $100,000.

What happened? In Canada, it's really nothing too surprising: It was snowing, the road surface was slick.

The 24 is an 80 zone for essentially its whole length between Brantford (or rather, the Rest Acres Rd. exit of the 403) and Simcoe, and it isn't uncommon to see people driving well over that limit, even over 100kph. Prior to this collision, Ms. Slaght estimated that she was driving at around 70kph (this seems unlikely, as the driver in front of her claimed to have slowed down from 65 upon concluding that the road surface was too icy); the northbound driver said that he was going at 65kph.

The northbound driver denied liability, presumably arguing that he wasn't actually negligent, and was applying due care. After all, he's going 15kph under the limit; when the law lets him go up to 80kph, what more can he be expected to do?

The Court's answer: Slow down more. Driving at 65 was still too fast under the conditions.

This was a civil action, and so the test for proving negligence is relatively lax - put simply, it's just a question of whether or not he acted as would a reasonably prudent driver under the circumstances. The Court found that a reasonably prudent driver wouldn't have been driving at 65 kph; he lost control of his vehicle because he was traveling at too high a rate of speed for the conditions. The Court doesn't seem to care that he was going less than the speed limit.

And rightly so. An 80kph speed limit isn't permissive; it's prohibitive. What I mean is that the sign saying "80 maximum" doesn't create a freestanding entitlement to drive at 80kph; it only prohibits going faster. Civil liability attaches fairly easily, but even quasi-criminal or criminal charges wouldn't necessarily be out of the question when a driver is going less than the limit. (The test is harder, requiring a 'marked departure' from the standard of the reasonably prudent driver...but saying 'I was under the speed limit' isn't a complete defence.)

This should be a stern reminder to all of us, going into another winter, which so far hasn't been a kind one. It's more important to get there safely than to get there quickly, regardless of where you're going or why. When the road conditions call for it, slow down. As much as is necessary.


This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.

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