Professional drivers held to higher standard: court

OTTAWA, ON – A professional driver and fleet must still share the blame and costs for a fatal 2008 crash – even though it involved a carload of partygoers who ran a red light, an Ontario appeals court has ruled

Three people were killed and one seriously injured when an SUV with five people, who had spent the night at several pubs, ran a red light and collided with an OC Transpo bus. The Ontario Trucking Association circulated the ruling to members this week.

The original ruling by Superior Court Justice Giovanna Toscano Roccamo assigned 20% of costs to the City of Ottawa and driver Raymond Richer.

The bus was speeding and Richer was looking from left to right rather than straight ahead when approaching the intersection. “Despite having the statutory right of way, a driver in the shoes of Mr. Richer is required to yield the right of way where, exercising proper care, circumstances dictate he ought not to exercise the statutory right of way,” the judge ruled. The appeals court agreed.

Richer could be judged as a “reasonable bus driver in like circumstances”, the ruling found, citing policies found in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and Official Bus Handbook.

“The requirement that Mr. Richer observe the standard of care of a reasonably prudent driver in like circumstances does not preclude a finding that as a professional driver, he should be held to a higher standard,” the ruling added.  

It didn’t even matter that the bus driver was looking at the mirrors.

“The manual’s direction, like any other best practice, is not a mandatory or absolute requirement.  Its application depends on all the surrounding circumstances.  More importantly, the trial judge did not look at this factor in isolation but as only one of the constellation of relevant factors that she was obliged to consider,” the appeals court found.

“Mr. Richer drove in a manner that did not adjust for weather and road conditions, and involved speeding and momentary inattention to the intersection ahead of him, when Mr. Richer chose to look left, then into his mirrors, and right before returning his attention to the front of his bus.  After that, Mr. Richer had time to comment to [a fellow employee] that the SUV was not stopping, steer to the left and brake. Moreover, [the other employee], after seeing the emergency himself, had time to move across the bus to another stanchion and crouch down before the impact.”

 

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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