Motorist At Fault for Failing to Have Headlights On Prior to Sunset


In British Columbia motorist’s obligations to turn headlights on are set out in section 4.01 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations.  This section state that :

4.01 A person who drives or operates a vehicle on a highway must illuminate the lamps required by this Division

(a)  from 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise, and

(b)  at any other time when, due to insufficient light or unfavourable atmospheric conditions, objects on the highway are not clearly discernible at a distance of 150 m.

Reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court considering this section and determining whether a motorist can be partially at fault for a crash for failing to have their lights on prior to sunset.

In today’s case (Schurmann v. Hoch) the Plaintiff was involved in a two vehicle collision.  He was leaving a stop sign and attempting to turn left at an intersection when the Defendant, approaching from the Plaintiff’s left, struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle.   The Defendant was the ‘dominant‘ driver and had the right of way.  The Plaintiff was found at fault for leaving a stop sign when it was unsafe to do so.  However the Court was also asked to determine if the Defendant was partially at fault.

At the time of the crash it was a few minutes prior to sunset.  The lighting conditions “posed visual problems for a person attempting to turn left“.  The Defendant was driving a dark pick-up truck and did not put on his vehicle’s running lights or headlights.   The Defendant was found 50% at fault for this failure.  In arriving at this decision Madam Justice Maisonville provided the following reasons:

[44]         I conclude, however, on the facts before the court that the defendant, driving a dark navy pickup truck without running lights or headlights in effect at approximately less than five minutes before sunset in conditions where there were clouds and it had commenced spitting and light raining, was negligent and failed to act reasonably in all of the circumstances by not putting on the running lights and headlights of his vehicle to make himself visible to other motorists.

[45]         I find that the defendant by failing to have his running lights on was negligent. His actions created an objectively unreasonable risk of harm. The defendant argues that he was in compliance with the statute insofar as it was not necessary to have the lights of his vehicle on as it was not yet sunset. I find however that section 4.01(a) of the Regulations speaks to ideal weather conditions, not conditions as they existed on the afternoon and early dusk of January 10, 2006. Those were cloudy conditions in circumstances where it had just begun to rain. Accordingly this situation was governed by s. 4.01(b) of the Regulations.

[46]         In considering the issue of the impact of breach of a statute, Dickson J., as he then was, held at page 225:

Breach of statute, where it has an effect upon civil liability, should be considered in the context of the general law of negligence. Negligence and its common law duty of care have become pervasive enough to serve the purpose invoked for the existence of the action for statutory breach: see Canada v. Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, [1983] 1 S.C.R. 205.

[47]         It must not be forgotten that the other elements of tortious responsibility equally apply to situations involving statutory breach, i.e. principles of causation and damages. To be relevant at all, the statutory breach must have caused the damage of which the plaintiff complains. Should this be so, the violation of the statute should be evidence of negligence on the part of the defendant (see Saskatchewan Wheat Pool).

[48]         The defendant submitted to the court that in order to find negligence one must first find a breach of the statute. I am mindful of the comments of Dickson J. Other elements of tortious responsibility equally apply – it is not necessary to find breach or for that matter compliance with a statute to find actions that created an objectively unreasonable risk of harm…

50] In this case, but for the defendant not having his running or head lights on, the plaintiff would have seen him, and would not have attempted the turn. The defendant thus breached the duty of care he owed to the plaintiff causing the plaintiff the unforeseen risk of injury ? and he did in fact suffer injury.

bc injury law, headlights, liability, Madam Justice Maisonville, Schurmann v. Hoch, section 4.01 Motor Vehicle Act Regulations

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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