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Title: A van reversed into me - who is to blame?

Date: 21 May 2014

Question

I pulled up behind a van which was on the right hand arm of a rural Y junction. The van driver then seemingly decided he wanted to go down the other arm of the Y, started reversing and only stopped when he felt the rear of the van ride up over the front of my bike. Luckily I escaped injury but the bike was forced onto its side and suffered heavy cosmetic damage. The driver said he didn’t see me. Where do I stand?

Andrew Davieson, Slough

Answer

It would seem that one of two things happened to cause this accident. Either you were there to be seen but the van driver simply didn’t check his mirrors, or that there was a solid back to the van and he did check his side mirrors but in the absence of being able to check a rear view mirror you weren’t there to be seen even though he looked.
If it’s the former then it would seem that a court must conclude that he was entirely at fault. If there was a solid back and you couldn’t be seen then things would be a bit more complicated. The starting position is that all road users have a duty to ensure that, before they carry out any manoeuvre, it’s safe to do so. As such he can’t simply reverse if he doesn’t know what’s there. If he is aware that he can’t see what is directly behind him then he should take steps to find out, even that means getting out of his van to check or using a banksman.

The fact that he hasn’t done so will mean that the court will likely attach primary liability for the accident to him. That said, courts generally decide liability in road traffic accidents on the basis of whether each party has done anything to contribute to the accident. When assessing this, the court expects each person to drive or ride with a very high degree of skill and attention, which includes anticipating the actions of other road users which may themselves be negligent.

Where a vehicle has a solid back, the court may well criticise a rider who pulled up so closely behind it that he wouldn’t be there to be seen when the driver checked his mirrors because while the van driver clearly should have cleared his blind spot, it is common for them not to do so. In light of that the court would say that the prudent rider should pull up far enough back or positioned himself on the road in a place where he could be seen in the side mirror.

The end result would likely be a finding that the van driver was primarily to blame but there may be a degree of contributory negligence on the part of the rider.

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