What happens if you’re in a RTA at a junction when the traffic lights are out? Who is at fault?
If anyone was visiting the west end of Glasgow last recently I’m sure you noticed the havoc being caused by the traffic lights being off at the junction of Great Western Road and Byres Road. The lights went off following a large collision at the junction on the Friday. Unfortunately, the collision was enough to cause all of the lights to go off due to signalling faults at one of the busiest junctions in the west end.
Pedestrians and vehicles were at odds trying to manoeuvre through the lights when they were off. This meant pedestrians were having to jump back on to pavements as vehicles raced towards them and trying to make a right-turn was near impossible at the busiest times of the day. This poses the question, should an accident happen, who is at fault?
This is not a simple question to answer. As always, it depends on the circumstances of the accident. When approaching a junction with no traffic lights working, drivers of vehicles must take the highway network as they find it and approach with care. Effectively, the junction becomes an unmarked junction and it is the primary duty of the driver to take due care and attention. Even though the local authorities have put traffic lights in place, the duty is on drivers to check that it is safe to proceed and exercise caution.
In order to establish who was liable for an accident at a junction where the lights are out, the facts of the case will need to be established. If you are involved in a crash at this type of junction, it is important to call the police to the scene to verify the accident circumstances. If there are no witness evidence in these cases it can often become a case of he-said, she-said which will not benefit any party. If you have had an accident whilst the traffic lights are out, it is rarely a clear cut case and it would be best advice to contact specialists who deal with these cases, such as Thompsons Solicitors.
In these situations, it is normal to think that the local authorities would be liable for the traffic lights being out. However, this would rarely be the case. For instance, the traffic lights at the junction of Byres Road and Great Western Road were fixed by Monday morning after the accident happened on the Friday. This required engineers to fix the control signals and repair them.
A Sheriff would not view this as an unreasonable amount of time that would give rise to liability to repair traffic lights that are out. In the case of Taylor v Gateshead Council and Newcastle City Council, the local authorities were not liable for a collision at traffic lights. The circumstances of Taylor were that the claimant who was undergoing his motorcycle driving test, suffered injuries when he turned right at a traffic light-controlled junction. He was faced with two lanes of oncoming traffic, the offside lane for ordinary traffic and nearside for buses, and noting that the oncoming regular traffic was stationary and a green traffic light was displayed for him, the claimant attempted to turn right.
Unfortunately, whilst the oncoming regular traffic was held at a red traffic light, a green traffic light was still on for the oncoming bus lane. The claimant was unaware and turned right into the path of a bus and suffered injuries. The local authorities were found not to be liable because whilst the authorities owed duties to road-users to exercise reasonable care and skill in designing a junction and the traffic light sequencing, they did not have a duty to review, revise or upgrade those designs.
Although the exact circumstances of this case are different, the judgement of Lord Freedman translates into traffic lights at a junction being out as whilst junctions may be controlled by traffic lights, their presence does not remove the duty on drivers to check that it is safe to proceed.
If you have been involved in a road traffic accident at an unmarked junction or at a junction with no working traffic lights and suffered an injury, please get in touch with our expert team who can provide advice on the circumstances of your case.
Blog by Jenny Scott