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Driver's road rage reaction amounted to accident, Appeal Court rules

16 August 2019

A driver caused an "accident" in terms of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 when he chased after a camper van that had caused him to brake sharply, overtook it and then stopped suddenly, forcing its driver into an emergency stop to avoid a collision – and was guilty of dangerous driving in doing so, the Sheriff Appeal Court has held.

Sheriff Principal Mhairi Stephen QC, and Appeal Sheriffs Peter Braid and Norman McFadyen, gave the ruling on an appeal by Mark McLaughlin against his conviction at Perth Sheriff Court on a charge of dangerous driving. The issues were whether an accident had occurred, so that it was not necessary to warn or give notice to the appellant within 14 days of the incident of an intent to prosecute, and whether his driving was dangerous rather than simply careless. 

The incident took place at a junction on the A9. The appellant was travelling southbound when a camper van pulled out across his path to turn north. The appellant braked sharply to avoid a collision, sounded his horn and brought his car to a halt. The camper van driver made a rude gesture to him, following which he turned his car, went after the camper van, overtook it, pulled in front of it and then braked harshly, forcing the other driver into an emergency stop to avoid a collision. (He also confronted and assaulted the other driver, conviction for which was not appealed.)

On appeal it was argued that on a commonsense view it could not be said that there had been an accident, where there had been no collision and in contrast to Pryde v Brown (1982) the other vehicle had not been forced off the road; and that having regard to the camper van's speed of about 30mph, the absence of loss of control and the absence of evidence of other traffic on the road at the time, the appellant’s driving had not been dangerous in terms of the legislation.

Giving the opinion of the court, Appeal Sheriff Braid said the "significant" and "defining" feature of the present case was that the other driver had had to execute an emergency stop. "That occurrence does enable a valid comparison to be drawn between this case and Pryde v Brown. It can be said no less in this case than in Pryde v Brown that if the complainer or his passenger had been injured (for example by banging their head on the windscreen due to the force of the stop) it could not be suggested that there had not been an accident. 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." 

On the quality of the appellant's driving Appeal Sheriff Braid added: "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."

Click here to view the opinion of the court.

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