|View of the junction from Starks' perspective|
Monday, 9 September 2013
ROUNDABOUTS – BIG OR SMALL – SAME RULES APPLY
In Starks v Chief Constable of Hertfordshire  EWCA Civ 782 the claimant was hurt when his car was hit on the driver’s side by a police car as he was turning right at a road junction. This junction would have been a conventional ‘T’ junction but for the fact that a mini-roundabout had been installed. At first instance, the trial judge allocated liability 45/55% in the defendant’s favour. The trial judge had found that the other car, a police car, had been travelling too fast but well within the 40 mph speed limit for the stretch of road, as it approached the road junction where the accident occurred. He ruled that Mr Starks should not have moved onto the roundabout when he could see the police car approaching from his right.
This allocation of liability was criticised by the Court of Appeal. It was more influence by the fact that the police woman driver had attempted to drive straight across the mini white painted roundel at the junction; almost as thought it had not existed. She would have needed to slow down to 20 mph to have circumnavigated the roundel. This would have reduced the severity of the damage and the injury. It found the policewoman 65% to blame for the accident.
Underhill LJ noted that Paragraph 188 of the Highway Code provides that the same rules apply to mini-roundabouts as to normal roundabouts. In particular, the Code states that vehicles ‘MUST pass round the central markings’. He deduced that paragraph 188 requires (i) drivers to go round not only the solid roundel but the circles around it and (ii) that driving over the markings is clearly a breach of the Code.
So the lesson here is that however much we may regret the increasing prevalence of these 'poached egg' roundabouts, they have been installed for a purpose: as a traffic calming / road safety measure. Although they may look insignificant, we are expected to slow down and to go around them. We breach the highway code if we choose to disregard them.
My detailed case commentary on Starks v Chief Constable of Hertfordshire and my analysis of the Court of Appeal’s approach to reversing first instance findings of contributory negligence is published in the Journal of Personal Injury Law which it can be accessed through Lawtel. A shorter case commentary is published in the Quarterly Bulletin of Butterworths Personal Injury Litigation Service.