5 October 2021

Driver 'confused' by tram told there'd be no crash if she obeyed green light

| Albert McKnight
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Flemington Road and Sandford Street

The three-car crash occurred at the intersection of Flemington Road and Sandford Street on 4 June 2019. Image: Google Maps

A driver who became “confused” by a Canberra tram and stopped despite a green light has been told she was mostly to blame for causing the three-car crash that followed.

On 23 September, the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled mainly in favour of the two other drivers she sued for causing damage to her car, although it did still find they carried a level of responsibility and awarded her some compensation.

Emma Spurek was driving her blue Kia on Flemington Road in Mitchell on the morning of 4 June 2019, heading back to her home in Ngunnawal.

As she approached the Sandford Street intersection, she saw a stationary tram on the Gungahlin to Civic route parked on the other side of the intersection.

She stopped her car even though the traffic lights were green. As ACAT’s Senior Member Dominic Mulligan said, she became “confused” by the tram’s presence.

READ ALSO Driver behind fatal car crash must pay $300,000 to survivor

Very shortly after her car stopped, it was hit from behind by a BMW driven by Kent Kan-Yin Lee, which in turn was struck by a Subaru driven by Mary Clark. The impact from Ms Clark’s car made the BMW hit the Kia a second time.

The back of Ms Spurek’s Kia was damaged and she sought just over $2000 in compensation.

She argued the other two caused the accident by failing to keep a safe distance behind her car and controlling their vehicles. But Senior Member Mulligan said her decision to stop suddenly at a green light was the “real cause” of the accident.

“Had Ms Spurek obeyed the green light and continued driving through the intersection, there would have been no impact with the stationary tram that was facing her and there would have been no obstruction of the vehicles behind her,” he said.

READ ALSO Family details pain after boy loses leg, spends month in coma after horrific car crash

“Put bluntly, had Ms Spurek obeyed the green traffic light and continued through the intersection, there would have been no crash.”

However, he also said Mr Lee and Ms Clark were not driving at a safe distance behind the Kia to avoid a collision.

He awarded Ms Spurek 25 per cent of her total claim, about $500, and ordered Mr Lee to pay the majority.

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The Tribunal focused on the competing breach of the road rules rather than who was negligent in the circumstances. The finding of the Tribunal that the Respondents “had a legitimate expectation that Ms Spurek would obey the green light and continue through the intersection without stopping” is interesting in light of ‘Sibley’. In Sibley v Kais [1967] HCA 43 at [5] the High Court stated: “The failure to take reasonable care in given circumstances is not necessarily answered by reliance upon the expected performance by the driver of the give way vehicle of his obligations under the regulations ; for there is no general rule that in all circumstances a driver can rely upon the performance by others of their duties, whether derived from statutory sources or from the common law.”

There can be many reasons a vehicle may be stationary at a green light – a pedestrian, cyclist or animal might be on the road which cannot be seen by drivers behind.

In terms of a breach of the road rules vis-a-vis civil liability the Court said: “These regulations in nominating the vehicle which has another vehicle on its right as the give way vehicle are undoubtedly salutary and their breach is deservedly marked with criminal penalties. But they are not definitive of the respective duties of the drivers of such vehicles to each other or in respect of themselves : nor is the breach of such regulations conclusive as to the performance of the duty owed to one another or in respect of themselves. The common-law duty to act reasonably in all the circumstances is paramount.”

Contrast Kenny v Ritter [2009] SASC where the Court of Appeal found 50/50 where the defendant was parked on a curve of the road chatting to another person when dark and wet

Agree with you, Ken. Canberra roads are confusing with too many signs, inconsistent lanes, bike and bus lanes which appear and disappear, sections of road where three or more sets of lights are directly in your line of sight, poor road markings etc etc. And in answer to Finegan_Freeman – well surprise, surprise not everyone encounters trams on a daily basis and I don’t know of many cities where a tram on your left is crosses right across in front of you.

As someone who doesn’t encounter the tram often, I can understand this lady’s confusion.

One night I was in a very similar situation. I was turning right across the tram line and had a green light. As soon as I saw it to my left, I had a momentary panic and exclaimed “Oh, “expletive”, train!”. My wife told me I had a green light and we continued.

Part of the problem is we are bombarded with Government advertising telling us to be careful of Light Rail, because it is fast moving and silent and we’ve all seen footage of near misses.
Personally, I think the thing is dangerous. In some jurisdictions there would be boom gates to protect people.

In air safety they’d probably be talking about startle responses and subtle incapacitation rather than laying blame.

The sooner we can get humans out of the driver seat the better off we will all be.

Capital Retro3:30 pm 06 Oct 21

If I were an aircraft pilot and a red tram came into view I would suffer those conditions too.

Finagen_Freeman9:23 am 06 Oct 21

Maybe she doesn’t get out much and hadn’t seen a team before. Wish there was a dash cam to show what she saw .

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