Almost every adult in Australia has driven a motor vehicle and almost every Australian, young and old, has almost certainly been a passenger at some stage in their lives. Many of us are parents and can relate to ferrying children around to various sports training, games, school runs and appointments.
Vehicles are part of everyday life but very little thought is given each time we get behind the wheel as to how our actions can impact upon the lives of others.
As a personal injury lawyer, I see firsthand the impact that inattention on our roads can have. There is obviously the financial impact including at-fault drivers having to pay property damage costs, but what is most concerning is the physical and psychological impact when people are injured in accidents.
So what is your duty of care as a driver? The concept of “duty of care” comes from an old case from the United Kingdom where Lord Atkin in Donoghue v Stevenson  laid down the basic test adopted in Australia: “You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.” As a driver, this duty of care not to cause foreseeable harm to others extends to both passengers and pedestrians.
As drivers we also have a duty to ensure we keep a proper lookout. In a recent Supreme Court decision in the ACT (Steed v McDougall ), a driver breached his duty of care by failing to keep a proper lookout when he was reversing from his driveway and collided with an postie on a motorbike.
The Court said the driver should have known the path was used by motorcycle riders including posties, that those riders might be distracted, that the view was obscured by foliage and significant injuries could occur from a collision. The Court also said the driver owed a duty of care whereby he could have minimised the risk associated with reversing onto the path by stopping the car and taking advantage of the available visibility before driving over the path. However, the Court held the postie contributorily negligent to the extent of 35 per cent for failing to keep a proper lookout for himself.
This case is an interesting example of how the simple act of reversing out of your own driveway can lead to an accident and to a breach of your duty of care. It also demonstrates that we must take care to look out for our own safety regardless of whether we are on a road or on a footpath.
Technological advancement means we have multiple devices in the car with us like mobile phones, tablets and navigation software to distract us. These items can be a cause of driver distraction and lead to accidents and injuries. In fact, on average 25 people are killed and 1,235 are seriously injured each year on Queensland roads alone as a result of crashes where driver distraction has played a part.
Just recently, a Queensland mother was filmed driving with both hands off the wheel as she used her mobile phone with her two children in the back seat. It is up to us as individuals to make a positive commitment to ignoring technologies and focus our attention solely on driving to ensure we do not injure ourselves, our loved ones and other road users.
If you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, please make sure you write down the name and contact details of the other person or people involved (as well as any witnesses). Take photographs of the vehicles involved and the accident scene, report the accident to police even if you consider it to be a minor accident and refrain from making any admissions regarding responsibility.