Category: Headlights

Defendant At Fault For Having Highbeams On

In Scott v Erickson, the Defendant was found to be 100% at fault for having his high beam lights on. He had been traveling northbound, with the Plaintiff traveling southbound. The Defendant pulled over to the opposite site of the road to retrieve mail from a community mailbox, with the result that his car was on the right hand side of the oncoming Plaintiff, with the high beams still on. This distracted the Plaintiff, who thought the Defendant was directly facing her in her lane. She consequently swerved to avoid the other vehicle, and was injured after driving down an embankment.


[24]         However, that does not end the inquiry. The question is whether the defendant was in breach of the common law duty of care that he owed to other drivers in the circumstances. It is trite law that, apart from specific statutory provisions, every operator of a motor vehicle owes a common law duty to take reasonable care for the safety other users of the highway.  What constitutes reasonable care in a given case depends on what is reasonable in the circumstances.


[25]         Those circumstances included the fact that, although he was not parked on the roadway, the defendant knew or should have known that he was close enough to it that his headlights to be visible to oncoming traffic. He also knew or should have known that there were no streetlights or other sources of light that would help oncoming drivers determine the position of his vehicle.


[26]         In those circumstances, it was reasonably foreseeable that an approaching driver seeing the defendant’s headlights would assume they were the lights of an oncoming vehicle in the northbound lane and would attempt to ensure that she stayed to the right of that vehicle.


[27]         In Findrik v. Chrusch, [1994] B.C.J. No. 257 (S.C.), the defendant’s vehicle had slid off an icy road and was parked on the wrong side with its headlights on. Liability was admitted, but the Court noted at para. 12 that, in the circumstances:


[12]      … If he was unable to move his vehicle to the correct side of the road the obvious proper course of action was to dowse his headlights and activate the hazard lights.


[28]         Similarly, I find that if the defendant had properly turned his mind to the potential hazard he was creating, the proper course would have been to turn off his headlights. If the absence of light from his headlights would have made it more difficult for the defendant to find and open his mailbox, that problem could have been solved with the simple use of a small flashlight.


[29]         The hazard created by the defendant in stopping as he did was aggravated by the fact his lights were on high beam, further interfering with the ability of the plaintiff to properly see and assess the situation. In that regard, the plaintiff relies in part on division 4 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations, B.C. Reg. 26/58, which governs the use of headlights. Section 4.01 says that division applies to vehicles being driven or operated “on a highway” and s.4.06(5) says:


(5)  A person who drives or operates a motor vehicle must not illuminate the upper beam of a headlamp if another motor vehicle is within a distance of 150 m from that vehicle, unless the driver has overtaken and passed the other vehicle, so that the high intensity portion of the beam does not strike or reflect into the eye of the other driver.


[30]           Section 1 of the MVA broadly defines highway as including:

(a) every highway within the meaning of the Transportation Act,

(b) every road, street, lane or right of way designed or intended for or used by the general public for the passage of vehicles, and

(c) every private place or passageway to which the public, for the purpose of the parking or servicing of vehicles, has access or is invited,

but does not include an industrial road;


[31]           In Busch Estate, Melvin J. found that the old road surface at issue was not a highway for the same reason it was not a roadway—it was not used for the “passage” of vehicles. However, he was considering subparagraph (a) and (b) of the definition of highway in the MVA and not the extended definition in subparagraph (c). It is at least arguable that the extended definition would cover the pullout where the mailboxes were located because it was an area to which the public had access for the purpose of parking vehicles.


[32]           However, it is not necessary for me to decide that question because I find that, by leaving his lights on high beam, the defendant was in further breach of his common law duty of care. Whether or not he was stopped on a portion of the highway, the defendant clearly knew or ought to have known that he was stopped close enough to the travelled road surface that his headlights would be shining toward oncoming drivers and the vision of those drivers could be impaired if the lights were on high beam.


[33]           I therefore conclude that, in stopping his car in the position he did with his headlights not only illuminated but on high beam, the defendant breached his duty of care.

Defendant 50% At Fault For Not Having Headlights On Prior To Sunset

Section 4.01 of the Motor Vehicle Act Regulations states the following with respect to a motorist’s use of headlights:


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.


In Schurmann v Hoch, the Plaintiff was found to be at fault for the accident, however the Court under the circumstances also found the Defendant to be 50% at fault for not having his headlights on prior to sunset.


[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.