Accident Claims News
Assessment of Driving in Winter Weather
Aug 20, 2013
A tragic fatal road traffic accident in wintery weather conditions was the subject of judicial scrutiny in a fatal accident inquiry at Lanark Sheriff Court. Sheriff Nikola Stewart presided over the FAI into the death of Natasha Jade Paton (http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/opinions/2013FAI10.html).
Lanark Grammar School arranged a trip to visit Alton Towers, Staffordshire on 31 March 2010. In deteriorating snowy weather, the coach on which the pupils and adult helpers were travelling left the road as it approached a tight left turn immediately before a bridge spanning Garf Water. As a result, the bus fell approximately 6 metres into the river, and tragically Natasha drowned having been ejected from the bus as it fell.
From a legal and evidential perspective, the Inquiry had an interesting analysis of the road conditions, and the approach taken by the coach driver when presented with such conditions. The A73 consisted of a number of sweeping bands followed by a moderate downhill stretch with a tight left turn onto the bridge. The turn was well signposted, and there was “shell grip” on the road surface to improve traction. Snow had fallen over the course of the night, and there was light snow falling at the time of the accident at about 5.45am. The road had been treated, and was described as being negotiable with care.
The last recorded speed of the bus was 25mph, and the speed had been reduced from 37mph as the bus descended towards the bridge. The driver still had to brake as he commenced the turn into the bridge. As he did so, he lost control of the vehicle, collided with the offside wall of the bridge and left the road.
The Sheriff concluded that the speed of the bus given the road conditions was a significant cause of the crash –
“Had the driver taken steps to reduce his speed to an appropriate level prior to negotiating the sharp turn onto the bridge, the loss of control which occurred could have been avoided or ameliorated.”
This was part of the dynamic assessment that any professional driver should make when approaching any obvious hazard. The police experts and independent experts agreed that
"it was as a direct result of Mr Munro's (the bus driver) failure to make the correct dynamic assessment at the start of the initial descent, to take into account the weather conditions and so ensure he was travelling at the correct speed and, just as importantly, he was in the correct gear in order to negotiate safely the hazards that he knew were ahead, that ultimately resulted in the failure of the vehicle to stop or negotiate the bridge safely."
This case shows that it should not always be assumed that there will be no driver negligence in road traffic crashes where there is snow or ice on the road. Much will of course depend on the circumstances of each case. However a careful examination of the driver’s “dynamic assessment,” and the actions taken in light of obvious hazards, needs to be undertaken. On this occasion, there were 3 experts in driving in wintry condition, and without there clear evidence the Sheriff would not have been able to give her striking opinion. The employment of such an expert will be necessary to allow any case to suitably assessed.