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The driver of an automobile is not bound to slow up in passing a street car when in motion, lest a passenger should jump off in his path, but when a car is standing at a customary stoppingpoint he is bound to know that persons have a right to pass and repass to and from the sidewalk and he must slow up and take special care to avoid an accident, On the other hand a person boarding a car and seeing an automobile approaching must on his part take reasonable care to avoid being run over.
As the safety of other users of the highway requires the full and constant exercise of the senses of sight and hearing on the part of the driver of an automobile it has been held that for a man blind of one eye and of imperfect vision to attempt to operate an automobile on a public road is of itself evidence of negligence. For substantially the same reason it is held to be gross negligence for a man to operate an automobile when under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and in most of the states a heavy penalty is imposed for doing so.
When approaching an intersecting street or a bridge or a sharp turn or curve in the road or a steep declivity the driver is required to slacken speed and to give due warning of his approach by sounding his horn or other signaling device.
As an automobile may be halted nearer a railroad track than a horse can usually be driven with safety the driver has a better opportunity to look for approaching trains. In approaching a railroad crossing, therefore, the law holds the driver "rigidly to such reasonable care and precaution as go to his own safety and that of the travelling public ", and it has been held that before attempting to cross the track he is bound to obey strictly the rule to stop, look, and listen.
When an automobile is left unattended in the street the laws of some states require that it shall be chained or locked to prevent its being started by unauthorized persons, but in the absence of such legislation it is usually sufficient to shut off the power, and if a stranger afterwards starts the machine, and an accident results the owner will not be responsible.
In the country, domestic animals of all kinds are often met with on the highway, and many motorists seem to suppose that they are there at their peril, and that they themselves have no duty in relation to them or at least that all that is required of
them under any circumstances is the sounding of the horn. This is a mistake. The owners of such animals when the latter are lawfully on the highway have the same rights as other users of the highway, and in all cases they are entitled to be protected against wanton or reckless acts by others. The motorist is bound to use every reasonable precaution to avoid running down such animals, dogs included.
The relative rights and duties of motorists and drivers of horse-drawn vehicles have frequently come in question. Both are equally entitled to use the highway and the mere fact that the presence or the operation of the automobile may cause the horseman annoyance or even danger gives the latter no legal ground for complaint. Even though the horse be frightened by the sight or sound of the automobile and an accident results, the motorist will not be responsible unless there has been some want of care on his part. If, however, he sees that the horse is frightened, or if the driver warns him that there is danger, he is bound to do everything in his power to prevent an accident by slowing down or stopping altogether, or even, if necessary, by stopping the operation of the engine. It is provided by statute in most of the states that the driver of the horse may require the motorist to take these measures, by raising his hand or otherwise signaling that his horse is frightened, but it would seem that the obligation of the motorist in this regard is substantially the same in the absence of any statutory requirement.
Like the drivers of all other vehicles the motorist is bound to conform to "the law of the road”—that is, in meeting another vehicle he must turn out to the right beyond the middle line of the travelled part of the road, and in passing another vehicle going in the same direction he must turn to the left. In England and in Canada the rule is the reverse of that in this country. When about to pass another vehicle the motorist must give notice by sounding his horn and the vehicle in front must then turn out to the right so as to allow him to pass unless there is room enough to pass without doing so. This rule however is subject to the qualifications that if the road is narrow the vehicle in front may continue on its way until it reaches a place where it can conveniently turn out and allow the other to pass.
For an automobile, or other vehicle, to be running on the wrong side of the road is prima facie proof of negligence on the part of the driver, but this presumption may be rebutted by showing that he had some valid reason for his action, as, for instance, that the road was obstructed, that he was obliged to turn aside to avoid collision with some other vehicle, or that he was about to stop on that side of the road or to turn into a side road; but it is not a sufficient excuse that the road on the right side is rough or not in good repair, unless it is actually dangerous; and the fact that a vehicle is on the wrong side of the road does not absolve the driver of other vehicles from the obligation to use all reasonable care to avoid collision with it. Both in this and in other cases it is a general rule that, without regard to the original fault, the party who has "the last clear chance” to avoid an accident is the one on whom the final responsibility falls.
While the motorist is bound under all ordinary circumstances to obey the law of the road as well as all other statutory requirements, emergencies may arise where too rigid adherence to rules is unjustifiable. In all cases he must exercise ordinary fairness and good judgment in reference to the rights of other users of the highway. As was said by an eminent judge, "The law expects the driver to use common sense".
In case of an accident the motorist is generally required by law to stop and to give his name and address, and the place of registration and number of his automobile, for the purpose of future identification. Neglect or refusal to do so will subject him to a heavy penalty.
When the automobile is operated by some person other than the owner questions frequently arise as to the liab:lity of the latter in case of accident. In such case the mere fact that he is the owner does not make him liable; it must appear further that the person actually in charge of the machine was employed by him and acting in his service. Even the fact that the operator is his son or daughter does not make him responsible. The question still arises: Was the child engaged in the parent's business or acting under his instructions or control, or at his request ? Thus where a daughter took a party of friends to ride in her father's automobile, without his authority, it was held that he was not responsible; and the same decision was made where a son was
permitted to use the father's automobile for purposes of his own. On the other hand when a man had bought an automobile for the general use of his family, which was operated only by his minor son, and his wife had general permission to use it without special request, it was held that the son when taking his mother to ride was acting in accordance with the general instructions of his father, express or implied, and that the father was responsible for his negligence.
Nor is it sufficient that the general relations of employer and employee subsist between the parties. The automobile owner is not in all cases responsible for the acts of his chauffeur. It is only when the latter is acting within the scope of his employment —when he is acting under his employer's directions or in the performance of his business that the employer is responsible for his acts or his negligence. Thus, when the chauffeur goes in his employer's automobile on a pleasure ride or on his own business the employer is not responsible. So, when a chauffeur was sent by his employer on an errand and he went first in another direction for a purpose of his own and there met with an accident ït was held that his employer was not liable to the person injured. So also, when one borrows an automobile the owner is not responsible for any accident while it is under the control and management of the borrower.
As these powerful machines would endanger the safety of other users of the highways unless managed with care and skill their use has been subjected to regulation in nearly all of the States—the machines must be registered and numbered, the operators licensed, the speed limited, the use of lights regulated
These statutes vary greatly in their provisions and are constantly changing; it would be impracticable for us to give even an abstract of them sufficiently full to be of practical value. At the same time it is extremely important for every owner and operator of an automobile that he should not only be thoroughly familiar with the laws of his own state on this subject, but that before going into another state he should ascertain what the laws of that state require, especially on the subjects of registration, operator's license and speed limits. By so doing he may save himself great annoyance and expense from unintentional violation of law. Copies of the laws on this subject can usually be
obtained by application to the proper authorities at the state capitol.
The most important of these statutes are those requiring the registration of automobiles and the display upon them of the registration numbers. The results of failure to register-aside from the penalty imposed-depend upon the term of the statute. Thus, for example, under the earlier statute of Massachusetts such failure was treated only as evidence of negligence, but under a later statute which provides that no automobile shall be used on a highway that is not registered as required by law it is held that the operator of an unregistered automobile is a mere trespasser on the highway and that other users of the highway have only the duty not to injure him by wantonness or recklessness. Accordingly in such cases it is held that none of the occupants of the automobile can recover in case of accident, even if they were not aware that it was not registered.
Failure to obtain an operator's license, on the contrary, is held to be only evidence of negligence, and does not of itself deprive the operator or the owner of the right to recover for any injury due to the negligence of another where want of skill on the part of the operator himself did not contribute to the accident. The same principle is applied in other cases of breach of statutory regulations such as the failure to carry lights or to conform to the law of the road. If an accident is due wholly or in part to the failure to conform to any such regulation the motorist will be held liable in damages to the person injured; and if he himself or his machine is injured and such failure on his part has contributed to the accident he will be unable to recover damages, even when the accident resulted primarily from the negligence of the other party; but where the accident is in no part attributed to the failure to comply with the law, such failure will be no bar to his recovery.
This doctrine of contributory negligence applies also to all other kinds of negligence as well as to the failure to comply with statutory regulations—where the party claiming damages has, himself been guilty of negligence he cannot recover.
The statute usually requires that the motorist shall always have with him when operating his machine both the certificate of registry of his automobile and his operator's license, and failure to do so subjects him to a penalty.