‘Road rage’ motorist loses appeal against dangerous driving conviction
A motorist found guilty of “dangerous driving” after overtaking a camper van before slamming on the brakes and forcing the other driver to perform an “emergency stop” has failed in an appeal against his conviction.
Mark McLaughlin claimed that the sheriff had erred in holding that an “accident” had occurred and in finding that his driving amounted to dangerous as opposed to “careless driving”, but the Sheriff Appeal Court refused the appeal.
Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC, sitting with Appeal Sheriff Peter Braid and Appeal Sheriff Norman McFadyen, heard that the appellant was convicted of a contravention of section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 following a “road-rage” incident on 27 May 2018.
The court was told that the complainer was driving a Ford Transit camper van containing his wife and two children from Blair Atholl northwards on the B8079 intending to join the A9 at the ‘House of Bruar’ junction.
Before turning right at the junction to enable him to drive northwards on the A9, he checked both right and left and considered it was safe to execute the manoeuvre, but in emerging from the B-road he pulled into the path of a Honda Civic driven by the appellant, who was travelling south on the A9.
As a result, the appellant braked sharply to avoid a collision and sounded the horn of his car for a number of seconds, before putting his hand out of his driver’s window and making a “rude gesture”.
The appellant then executed a U-turn to follow the camper van northwards on the A9.
To catch up with the camper van, which was travelling at around 30mph, the appellant accelerated quickly then overtook the van, pulled in front of the vehicle and braked harshly, bringing his car to a halt in front of the van and causing the complainer to perform an emergency stop to avoid a collision.
Once the camper van came to a stop, the appellant got out of his car and walked to the driver’s door of the camper van.
Words were exchanged and the appellant then leant through the driver’s window of the camper van and slapped the male complainer on the face, knocking off his spectacles.
‘No case to answer’
On the basis of those findings in fact, the sheriff repelled a defence submission of “no case to answer” founded upon a failure to comply with the provisions of section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, in that the appellant was neither warned at the time of the offence, nor had a complaint or notice of intended prosecution been served on him within 14 days.
In reply to the submission, the Crown referred to section 2 of that Act, in terms of which there is no requirement to comply with the provisions of section 1 if an accident had occurred.
It submitted, under reference to Pryde v Brown 1982 SCCR 26, that the appellant’s actions in overtaking the camper van driven by the complainer and pulling in sharply before braking harshly, causing the complainer to execute an emergency stop, constituted an “accident”.
Having heard defence evidence, the sheriff then convicted the appellant of a contravention of section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, after concluding that the way in which the appellant drove at the material time fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be “dangerous”.
However, McLaughlin appealed against his conviction, arguing that that the sheriff had erred both in holding that an accident had occurred and in finding that the driving was dangerous.
Counsel for the appellant submitted that the sheriff had done precisely what the High Court said in Pryde v Brown should not be done, to apply a test namely whether the appellant by his driving had caused the complainer to do something which he otherwise would not have done.
Rather, it was argued that each case turned on its own particular circumstances and the test was one of “common sense rather than conformity with a definition”.
In the present case, where the complainer had not had to leave the carriageway but had simply had to bring his own car to a halt, it could not be said on a “common sense” view that that amounted to an accident; were it otherwise, every time a driver had to slam on the brakes – a common occurrence – there could be said to have been an accident.
As to whether the sheriff was entitled to find that the appellant’s driving amounted to a contravention of section 2, as opposed to section 3, of the 1988 Act, counsel for the appellant submitted that having regard to the speed, the absence of loss of control and the absence of evidence of other traffic on the road at the time, the appellant’s driving did not amount to dangerous driving, although he conceded that it would amount to careless driving.
‘Sheriff did not err’
Refusing the appeal, the court ruled that the sheriff was correct in ruling that there had been an accident and that the appellant’s driving was dangerous.
Delivering the opinion of the court, Sheriff Braid said: “It is always legitimate to compare the facts of one case with those of another in deciding whether a particular incident can or cannot be categorised as an accident.
“In the present case, it was not so much that the complainer had to do something which he would not otherwise have done which is significant; but the fact that what he had to do was to execute an emergency stop. That occurrence does enable a valid comparison to be drawn between this case and Pryde v Brown.
“As soon as it is accepted (as it must be in light of Pryde v Brown) that adverse physical consequences are not required for there to be an accident, any initial reaction one may have that there had merely been a near-accident is dispelled.
“The defining feature of the present incident in our view was not simply that the complainer had to stop quickly or that he would not otherwise have had to stop at all, but that what he had to do was to perform an emergency stop.
“In the context of a busy trunk road where one would not normally come to a stop (in contrast, say to a junction in town controlled by traffic lights) that does constitute an accident within the meaning of section 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, and we have concluded that the sheriff did not err in holding that there had been an accident.”
He added: “Turning to the second issue, whether or not the driving amounted to a contravention of section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, we can deal with this in short order.
“We refer again to the fact that as a consequence of the appellant’s driving, the complainer required to execute an emergency stop, on a normally busy trunk road. This was not as a result of mere inadvertence on the appellant’s part, but followed his deliberately driving after the appellant, cutting in front of him and forcing him to stop, in what can clearly be seen, from the findings in fact, to be a road-rage incident.
“In our view that does fall far below the standard to be expected of a competent and careful driver, and it would be obvious to such a driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. Accordingly, the sheriff correctly found the appellant guilty of the contravention of section 2.”
© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020