HIGH COURT OF JUSTICIARY
OPINION OF THE COURT
THE HON. LORD CAPLAN
CONTINUED STATED CASE
STEPHEN PETER MOAR
Procurator Fiscal, Stornoway
9 February 1999
On 10 July 1997 the appellant Stephen Peter Moar appeared at Stornoway Sheriff Court on summary complaint and after trial was found guilty of a charge of dangerous driving contrary to section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. The charge alleged that the appellant had driven a motor car dangerously; had driven at excessive speed; had failed to maintain control of the vehicle at a bend and then driven on the wrong side of the road thus colliding with an on-coming motor car. Both vehicles were damaged. The sheriff found the appellant guilty as libelled, fined him £200, and disqualified him from driving for one year with a condition that before his licence was restored he should pass a test of competency to drive.
The circumstances of the case as derived from the sheriff's finding are as follows. At or about 3.20am on Saturday, 27 April 1997 the appellant was driving a Volkswagen Jetta motor car in an easterly direction in North Beach Street, Stornoway, and thereafter was following the left hand bend in a northerly direction onto Cromwell Street. It was night but streetlamps were illuminated. There had recently been a shower of rain and the road surface was wet. Cromwell Street and North Beach Street, form part of the town centre and are both subject to a 30mph speed limit. The appellant had for some four hours prior to 3.20am been indulging in the pastime known locally as "spinning" around the town in his car. Latterly he had four passengers and his driving had been interspersed with occasional periods of parking. At about 3.20am on Saturday, 27 April 1996 there were still some other pedestrians and vehicular traffic in the vicinity of Cromwell Street. The appellant drove his motor car along North Beach Street and as he approached a sharp left hand bend into Cromwell Street he was observed to be travelling well in excess of the speed limit. His speed was estimated as being in the region of 50mph. As the appellant entered the bend, his car was in the centre of the carriageway with both his offside wheels on the wrong side of the road. As the appellant entered that bend he allowed his attention to wander from the road ahead towards a number of pedestrians seated on some street furniture situated to his right on the far pavement and on the other side of the road. As he was entering the bend so Miss Macdonald was approaching the same bend in the other direction driving a Vauxhall Cavalier. She had a passenger with her. In Cromwell Street and north of the bend there lies a traffic light controlling a pedestrian crossing. Miss Macdonald had not quite entered the crossing, having been correctly positioned on the road when she was confronted by the appellant's motor car driving at speed of 40 - 50mph partly on the wrong side of the road. His car failed to take the bend and headed straight for her. There was a head-on collision between the two vehicles. The Volkswagen Jetta continued onwards in its direction of travel and ended up nearer to the eastmost pavement than did the Cavalier. Both cars were extensively damaged and indeed the Vauxhall Cavalier was written off for insurance purposes. Fortunately no-one was injured. The police were called to the scene and arrived within a few minutes. The drivers having been identified, the appellant elected to make a voluntary statement under caution. He said that,
"About twenty past three this morning I was driving my Jetta along North Beach Street. As I was coming round the corner I was glancing at the Pyramid for a second and when I glanced back I saw the lights of another car coming towards me. Next thing I hit the brakes, the car skidded across the road and I just seen Joan driving the other car and then we collided".
The police examined the locus soon after the accident but were unable to detect any sign of skidding relevant to the accident.
The sheriff further held that in driving the motor car in the way that he did, the appellant drove far below the standard to be expected of a competent and careful driver. It would be obvious to any competent and careful driver that driving a motor car in the way that the appellant did would be dangerous. It should be noted that the sheriff observes that the centre of Stornoway, at the locus of the incident, is a focal point where young people gather and remain until the early hours of the morning. When the incident arose there was still a number of people in the street.
In support of the appeal, counsel for the appellant intimated that he was not insisting upon paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the second grounds of appeal but his submission depended on querying whether the sheriff was entitled to conclude that any contravention of the Road Traffic Act was one of section 2, that is to say dangerous driving, rather than section 3, which is careless driving. He indicated that the sheriff had not summarised the evidence of the witnesses. The sheriff appeared to accept certain inconsistent evidence of witnesses regarding speed. The speed was a critical element in any question of dangerous driving.
In the first place we observe that it is not suggested that the sheriff applied any wrong tests. The appellant's driving did not show just one departure from normal standards of driving but three. He drove at a speed clearly too fast for the circumstances. The sheriff was in the best situation to determine what speed was an acceptable speed for the particular circumstances of the locality and moreover, having heard all the evidence he was best able to decide what evidence of the speed fitted in best with the other evidence. Secondly the appellant did not take reasonable care to keep his vehicle in its correct road position because he entered a bend in a manner where he lost control of his vehicle. In fact he was entering a blind bend. Thirdly, the appellant did not concentrate on driving but looked away from the road. We have no doubt that these errors in combination could be regarded as dangerous driving by the sheriff albeit that they may be at the lower end of the scale of dangerous driving. The appellant could be said to have driven, as the sheriff indicates, in a manner far below the standard which would have been expected from a careful and competent driver.
The questions in the stated case therefore fall to be answered in the affirmative and we refuse the appeal.