20th May 2015

Where the road ends…and the pavement begins

For many years now the law has been quite clear that pavements running along the sides of roads are safe places.  If a pedestrian is on the pavement and is hit by a passing vehicle, the driver is always 100% to blame, and the pedestrian is never at fault.  Neither can the driver argue that the damages he has to pay should be reduced to take account of any fault by the pedestrian.  This is true even if the pedestrian is walking very close to the edge of the pavement, or even leaning out into the road.

The reason for this strict approach by the courts is very simple.  Pedestrians are surely entitled to feel that they are safe when on the pavement, and drivers need to be quite clear that they cannot mount kerbs or even drive too close to them.  If the courts allowed this principle to be whittled away, it would be no time at all before it would be said that pedestrians have a duty to walk only in the middle of the pavement, or close to the wall, or even that they have a duty to check all around them to ensure that no car is nearby.  Before long drivers would be practically driving on the pavement.

Nevertheless, the clarity of the law does not stop drivers from trying to blame pedestrians on the pavement for accidents.  In the recent case of Whyte v Bluebird Buses Ltd some ten year old boys were messing about at a bus stop.  Although one of them was at the very edge of the kerbstone, none of them were actually off the pavement or in the road.  When the bus arrived it came very close to the pavement, although it did not actually mount the kerb or overhang the pavement.  The boy was struck on the head by the bus as it drew to a stop.

The bus company said that the bus had been going at a reasonable speed, and it had not actually encroached on the pavement.  Nevertheless they were found liable to pay £8,000 damages because the bus had been right up against the edge of the kerb, and should not have been driving so close.  This was particularly so in the light of the age of the boys, and also the fact that the driver would have seen them playing about in the stop as he approached.

Since the bus did not encroach on the kerb, or overhang it, the boy’s body must have been to some extent leaning out into the road.  However, the court did not want to encroach on the principle that pedestrians on pavements are in an entirely safe place, and are not going to be found to have contributed in any way to their own injuries.  The message for drivers must be to keep well away from the kerb next to a busy pavement, particularly when parking.

Richard Godden
Partner – Dispute Resolution/Personal Injury 



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