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Craggy v Chief Constable of Cleveland Police, Court of Appeal, 9 November 2009

11 November 2009
The issues

Road traffic – emergency vehicles.

The facts

On the 17th February 2006, at 5:30am, when it was dark, a fire engine had a collision with a police car on Borough Road, Middlesbrough. Both vehicles were responding to emergency calls. The car, to a highest priority call and the fire engine, to a separate emergency call. The driver of the fire engine was injured in the collision and sued the Chief Constable of Cleveland Police. The collision took place at a junction between Borough Road and Linthorpe Road, a junction at the heart of Middlesbrough, governed by traffic lights. The car was travelling from West to East in Borough Road, which ran straight both to the West and East of the junction, giving the driver a clear view of the road ahead. The fire engine was travelling North in Linthorpe Road. They collided in the junction. The area was subject to a general 30mph speed limit but the police car was exempted from observing the speed limit by Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The fire engine was similarly exempted from treating the light against it as a give way signal rather than as a halt sign by virtue of Regulation 36(1)(b) of the Traffic Signs Regulation and General Directions 2002 (“When a vehicle is being used for fire brigade, ambulance…or police purposes and the observance of the prohibition conveyed by the red signal … would be likely to hinder the use of that vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used then…a red signal should convey the prohibition that that vehicle shall not proceed beyond the stop line in a manner or at a time likely to endanger any person or cause the driver of any vehicle proceeding in accordance with the indications of light signals operating in association with the signals is displaying the red signal to change its speed or course in order to avoid an accident.“)

The police driver had a green light in his favour. The fire engine entered the junction against a red light. The police car accelerated from 29 to 52.4mph in the 10 seconds immediately prior to the impact. The fire engine was travelling at about 15mph as it entered the junction. Both vehicles were displaying blue warning lights and sounding their two-toned sirens. Neither driver had a true view of the other until immediately before the collision, based on the evidence that the view of both drivers of traffic entering the junction to their respective left and right was restricted by buildings. The Judge at first instance found the police driver negligence but the Claimant also negligent to the extent of two-thirds.

The Chief Constable Appealed.

The decision

The Judge found that the police driver was obliged to drive in such a manner that he could stop in the event that another emergency vehicle came out of Linthorpe Road. His speed at 50mph was too fast on approach to a busy junction with limited visibility. He had not given sufficient thought to that hazard that the junction presented with its limited visibility, or any thought to the possibility that another emergency vehicle might be approaching the junction at the same time. The Judge found that he could and should have anticipated the possibility of the presence of another vehicle, whether an emergency vehicle or otherwise and should have been in a position to stop to avoid a collision.

The police driver had activated his blue light and his siren. Given the road conditions and the time of day he could reasonably expect other road users to be aware of his approach. The fire engine was using its siren and flashing its lights. The police driver had neither heard nor seen the fire engine, but the Judge found that that was not the result of any want of care on his part. In respect of the Judge’s criticism that the police driver should have been aware of the possibility of another emergency vehicle driving into the junction at that moment, this was to put an unreasonably high burden upon him. That was a counsel of perfection going well beyond what could be expected of a reasonable and prudent driver in the circumstances.

Nor could the police driver have reasonably been expected to anticipate the possible presence of another vehicle, whether an emergency vehicle or not, given the prevailing traffic conditions, and the fact that he was giving warning to others of his approach by his flashing lights and his sirens.

Since the police driver could not reasonably have foreseen the possibility of another emergency vehicle or other traffic entering the junction against a red light, then to have accelerated to about 50mph as he approached the junction, could not be said to have been negligent, bearing in mind, critically, that he had taken the appropriate steps to alert others to his approach.

Appeal allowed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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