Sharp fine for gross negligence

Hertfordshire Mercury, 1st May 1915


At Hertford County Sessions John Wood, an engineer, employed at Bates’ Motor Works Ltd., Hertford, was charged with driving a motor-car recklessly at Waterford on April 8.  He pleaded not guilty.

Frederick John Wilsher, of 32 Thornton Street, a carman in the employ of Messrs McMullen and Sons Ltd., stated that he was driving a one-horse cart near Waterford Hall Farm at 6.15 on the evening in question, when a motor smashed into him from the rear.  He was on his proper side, and there was plenty of room for the motor to pass.   He heard no sound whatever, but a lady who was in the cart with him said there was a car coming, and then she said ‘It’s coming into us!’  The witness drew closer to his near side, but the car smashed into him on the near side, breaking the cart and harness and throwing the horse and cart right across the road.  The defendant was driving the car, and had with him Mr. Morris and some of his workmen, one of whom came and held the horse and patched up the harness.

The Clerk: ‘You were not knocked out?’  ‘No’.  ‘Then it did not hit you very hard?’  ‘Didn’t it though: you would have thought so if you had been in the cart and seen where it knocked us to’.  ‘You say the road was quite clear?’  ‘Yes’.  The defendant asked ‘Didn’t you hear the horn?’  ‘No.’  ‘Then you must be deaf.’  ‘No, I’m not.’

Matilda Martin, of 7 St Albans Cottages, Southgate, who was in the cart with the last witness, corroborated his statement.  She said the cart was near the garden wall of Waterford Hall Farm when she saw the car turn the corner at the top of Bulls Mill Lane.  That would be 200 or 300 yards away, so that the defendant had plenty of chance to see the cart.

The Clerk: ‘What pace was the car going?’  ‘Not full tear; it was going along at an ordinary pace.  You see some of them flying along, but this one was going ordinary.’  ‘Did you sustain any injury?’  ‘Yes, I was bruised in the back and shoulder.  I have not been able to work since, and have been under the doctor’s hands.  I am still under the doctor; it has upset my nerves so.’  ‘Was there anything the matter with the driver?’  ‘I thought he was drunk.’  ‘Why did you think so?’  ‘The way he stood in the road: you can pretty well tell if a man is drunk.  I went to the lady in a car which drove up, and I said to her ‘That man is drunk.’

The Clerk (to the defendant): ‘Do you want to ask the witness any questions?’  The defendant: ‘No.’  ‘You see it is very serious for you.  She says you were drunk, and you don’t contradict it?’  ‘I was not drunk.’

Alfred E. Morris, of the firm of Messrs W.J.Morris and Sons, furnishers, of Fore Street, Hertford, said that he was being driven to Hertford on the day in question by the defendant.  He noticed the cart in front before the accident: it was two or three feet from the the path on the near side, and pulled in a little nearer when the car approached it.

The Clerk: ‘Was the road clear?’  ‘Quite clear.’  ‘Well, what happened?’  ‘Well, our car ran into the back of the brewer’s cart.’  ‘Was your car trying to pass?’  ‘It should have passed all right, but went in the same direction.’  ‘Did you suffer any damage?’  ‘Slightly.’  ‘Was the driver on his right side?’  ‘He was until he came to the cart, and should have passed it, but instead of that he got in too much on the near side before attempting to turn.’  ‘Did you go out with the man that day?’  ‘I went out with him in the morning at 8 o’clock.’  ‘Did you keep with him all day?’  ‘No, he came back to the town and picked me up again at about 5 o’clock at Weston.’  ‘Did you notice anything wrong with the driver?’  ‘No.’  ‘Did he get out of the car?’  ‘Yes, he got out to start the engine.’  ‘Did he have anything to drink in your presence?’  ‘On the way we stopped at the Woodhall Arms at Stapleford, for about three minutes, and he had a little whisky.  He did not show any signs of being drunk or I should not have stopped.’  ‘Had you passed any vehicles on the way?’  ‘No.’  ‘Did he attempt to pull out when he got to the cart?’  ‘If anything he pulled nearer to the left side.’

The Chairman: ‘Did you form any opinion as to why he did it?’  ‘No, it was done so suddenly.  It had been raining very heavily a few minutes previously, and the glass screen was wet.  I was rather under the impression that the driver was going to pull up behind the cart, because during the journey he was demonstrating with this car and showing me how it was worked.’  ‘Had you any difficulty in seeing the cart?’  ‘No.’  ‘Was anybody else in the car?’  ‘Yes, four of my assistants.’

Admiral Hastings: ‘Do you attribute blame to the driver?’  ‘Well, it must have been so.’  ‘There would be no safety in the roads if a man is going to run into you from behind like that.’

Supt Pear: ‘Is it not a fact that the defendant tried to pass the cart on the left side instead of the right?’  ‘Well, he ran onto the path and that looks as if he did try to do so, but he pulled off again before colliding with the cart.’  ‘Where did the car strike the cart?’  ‘On the near wheel and tailboard, and it broke the glass of the wind screen.’  ‘What sort of car was it?’  ‘A little closed motor van.’

The Chairman: ‘I suppose you did not feel very safe yourself?’  ‘Up to that time I did.’

The defendant: ‘Did you not hear me blow my horn?’  ‘No, I cannot say I did.’  ‘What speed do you think we were travelling?’  ‘At about 15 or 16 miles an hour.’

P.C. Milton, of Waterford, stated that he met the car being towed through the village by another car.  He stopped it and asked the defendant what had happened, and he made no reply.  He saw that the wind screen was broken, the wings very much damaged, and the bonnet ripped open.  He rode on the car to Hertford with the defendant, and after it had been put up at Bates’ Motor Works he went with Wood to the police station, where the defendant made a statement to Supt Pear.  The witness afterwards measured the road where the accident occurred, and found it was 16 ft. wide.  There were the marks of the car wheels on the path for a distance of 27 ft.  The Clerk: ‘Did the defendant appear to be the worse for liquor?’  ‘Yes.’

The Chairman: ‘Was he confused?’  ‘Yes.’

Supt Pear stated that at 8.15 the defendant arrived at the police station, and made a statement as to how the accident happened, to the effect that the cart had swerved across the road and that he could not help running into it.  He asked the defendant why his car had got on to the path, and then he tried to demonstrate that he had as much right to pass the cart on the left side as he had to go on the right.  No doubt the defendant had been drinking, and was decidedly the worse for drink then, two hours after the accident.  The witness advised him for his own sake to go and see a doctor to test his sobriety, but he would not do so.  The defendant tried to draw a plan of the road, but he could not do it.

The defendant, when asked what he had to say, replied: ‘I am very sorry this happened, but it was a mis-judgement of distance.  I was demonstrating this car to Mr Morris, and I had been out all day.  As I was going along the road I was explaining to Mr Morris the mechanism of the car, the consumption of petrol, and so forth.  All at once there was this cart.  The man was not right on his proper side of the road, and I could see that if I  tried to pass him on the proper side there would be a serious accident, because I had got five people bedside myself.  I could just see enough room on the left side and so I went to do it, which no doubt dozens of motorists have to do.’

The Chairman: ‘ How long have you been driving a car?’  ‘For 14 years, and have had a clean licence all the time.  This is the first complaint I have ever had.’  ‘There must be a beginning to everything.’  ‘If that man had stopped with his cart where he was when I first saw him, as he ought to have done, I should have got through.’

The Clerk: ‘Why should he?  He had the proper right of the road, and was on his proper side.  If you try to pass on the wrong side you do it at your own risk.  It is your duty when over-taking a vehicle to wait until you get a proper opportunity to pass.  You ought to know that if you have been driving for 14 years.’

The defendant: ‘As regards being under the influence of drink, I don’t consider I was.  I had been out all day.  I took Mr Morris and four workmen to the other side of Stevenage in the morning, and fetched them back at night.  All we had before that was a cup of tea.’

The Chairman: ‘That would not make you intoxicated.’

John Thacker, the landlord of the Nelson beerhouse, Hertingfordbury Road, who saw the defendant at 3 p.m. and again at 8.30 p.m. at his house, said the defendant was not intoxicated then.

After deliberating in private the Chairman said: ‘The Magistrates are bound to take a very serious view of this case.  It is a case of gross negligence, and there was no error of judgement whatever, because it was your duty if there was anything in the way to pull up and not try to pass.  If people travelling on the road are to be subject to this sort of gross negligence nobody will be safe.  We shall fine you £5 and 17s. 6d. costs, and you may think yourself very lucky that you have not been charged with being drunk whilst in charge of a motor-car, because in that case  you would probably have had three months’ imprisonment.  It is a very serious thing for anybody to take liquor when they are in charge of a motor-car.  Whether meeting a car or going in the same way it is your duty to be careful and it is our duty to protect the public against anybody who drives carelessly.’

The defendant made an application for time to pay the fine, and the Bench ordered  that he pay it by monthly instalments of £1.



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