Many people are often misled by speed limits in that they believe that if they are travelling at the designated speed limit in the road, they are not legally doing anything wrong.
This is not the case. The Highway Code is clear in that we must not drive faster than the speed limits of the road but the speed limit is the absolute maximum. It does not mean it is safe to drive at the speed limit of the road. You must consider the layout of the road, the people using the road around you and what is situated along that road.
This is further clarified in a string of cases.
In the case of Toropdar v D , the Defendant was driving at the speed limit of the road. He was travelling 30mph in an inner city residential road. The Claimant was a 10 year old boy who had been playing games with his friends outside a nearby education centre. The Claimant had run out from behind a bus into the path of the Defendants’ vehicle. Despite travelling at the speed limit for that street and being unable to avoid the collision, the Court decided that the Defendant should have been travelling slower than the prescribed speed limit for that particular street. Due to the presence of the education centre, it was likely that children would be playing in that street.
In the case of Phethean-Hubble v Coles , the Claimant was cycling along a street when he turned into the road and was struck by the Defendant. The Defendant had estimated that he was travelling at approximately 30mph which was the speed limit for that street. The court found that he was in fact travelling at 35mph. The court mentioned in their judgement that even if the Defendant had been travelling at the speed limit, this would have still been too fast for that particular road and the ideal speed would have been 26-27mph.
It is a long established principle that if a driver sees children in the vicinity of a road they are travelling along, it will be the driver’s duty to slow down to a safe speed and anticipate unpredictable behaviour such as a child running into the road. This duty goes incredibly far and is demonstrated in the case of AB v Main , where the Defendant driver was travelling as much as 10-15mph under the speed limit for that particular road. It was found that the Defendant driver having seen the children should have anticipated their erratic behaviour and taken her foot off the accelerator, despite being well under the speed limit, and covered her brakes. Had she taken this precautionary action a collision in this case could have been avoided or the collision would have been at a lower speed and caused a less severe injury.
Clearly even if you are travelling within the speed limit of a street you can still be found to blame if an accident occurs and you cause that person an injury. You must keep an eye out for potential hazards and take precautionary action which may not only include slowing down to a speed well within the speed limit.
By Anna Silcox