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King v Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, Court of Appeal, 23 May 2003

4 June 2003
The issues

Roundabout design – road traffic accident – motorbike.

The facts

The Defendant Highway Authority designed the Cobtree traffic roundabout near junction 6 of the M20. The Claimant was riding his motorcycle into the roundabout when he had an accident on the 2nd July 1994. He came off the A229 on a slip road near Maidstone and onto the roundabout. He did not stop at the give way lines, but rode straight on into the island at the centre of the roundabout. In doing so, he collided with one of three road signs, which were on the island, each indicating that he had to turn left. He argued that the roundabout had been negligently designed and built and that that negligence had caused his accident. The High Court Judge found for the Claimant, finding however that he was contributorily negligent to the extent of 50%. The Defendant appealed both on primary liability and the percentage of contributory negligence.

The roundabout was circular and lit by sodium lights. The slip road was lit by sodium lighting all the way down from the A229. The accident happened at 2.00 am. The road was damp but not excessively wet. The Claimant was riding down the slip road at about 50 mph and when he got to the roundabout his speed was between 30 and 40 mph. He did not slow down and went onto the roundabout at this speed. The speed at which he went onto the roundabout was less than that at which he could have safely negotiated it. The Judge found that the angle at which the right hand lane of the slip road entered the roundabout was in excess of the design recommendations with little if any, deflection of the carriageway over to the left.

This point had been picked up by a safety audit prior to the accident. The Judge was particularly concerned by the fact that at a road where the maximum speed was 50 mph, drivers coming onto the roundabout were obliged to make a very sharp turn of almost 90 degrees. The combination of the high angle of entry and high speed on the road combined to be a cause of the Claimant going straight over the roundabout carriageway.

The decision

1. The entry angle was on the high side.

2. The Court did not find it necessary to address the issue of the precise nature of the Highway Authority’s duty in these circumstances. Although submissions were made as to the applicability of Stoven -v- Wise, the Court did not consider it appropriate to rule upon those submissions. For the purposes of the decision, the Court would assume without accepting that the design of the approach lane to the roundabout was not merely above what was recommended in the advice note as one to be achieved “if possible” but also such as might entitle someone to complain in some circumstances of a breach of duty owed to him not to be negligent in the design of the roundabout and its approaches.

3. However, the Trial Judge had erred on the issue of causation. The cause of the accident was Mr King’s failure to register hazard warning lines, give way lines, and the three left turn signals – or indeed the island itself.

4. It was wrong for the Judge to take the view that the safety audit material supported the conclusion that the design of the roundabout and its approaches were negligent. Deflection was a term of art and was used as such in the report. None of the passages written before the accident contained any suggestion that the entry angle of the slip road should be altered. The Claimant was driving in a way, which was negligent, and in a manner which could not be regarded as something that a competent road traffic engineer should have made design provision.

Appeal allowed.

Comments

Lord Justice Sedley dissented, taking the view that the Claimant had driven into a trap and noting that he had been driving at a safe speed as he approached and entered the roundabout.

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