Speeding infringement overturned on appeal

This is an interesting case where a judgment found it proven that a Mr Mercer drove a vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding 100 km/h, but on appeal the infringement notice was dismissed after Mr Mercer argued that when two cars he was passing at a passing lane sped up his safest option was to exceed the speed limit to complete the massing manouvre before the passing lane ran out.

[1] Mr Mercer, who represents himself, appeals a decision of Judge CS Blackie finding proved that he drove a vehicle on a road at a speed exceeding 100 km/h, which was the applicable speed limit. This is an infringement offence.

[2] Mr Mercer did not dispute in the hearing before Judge Blackie that he exceeded the speed limit of 100 km/h. His case was that he had no choice. Mr Mercer said in evidence that a car he was passing increased its speed towards the end of the passing area and he decided the only safe course of action was to exceed the speed limit so as to complete his overtaking manoeuvre safely.

This sort of scenario will be familiar to many people. It is common for slow cars to speed up when they get to passing lanes, and for cars in the slow lane to speed up when being passed.

[7] Mr Mercer’s argument is to the effect that the Judge should have accepted his evidence about his reason for exceeding the speed limit and discharged him accordingly. Mr Mercer, not being a lawyer, advanced his argument on a common sense “it is just not right” basis.

[8] Judge Blackie acknowledged Mr Mercer’s argument, but he did not address it. By his decision the Judge rejected the argument, but he gave no reasons for doing so. That is unfortunate because there is at law a legal exception to the prohibition on exceeding a speed limit which might have applied to Mr Mercer.

[19] Mr Mercer’s relevant evidence-in-chief was:

A. There were two cars in front of me and I was driving along, I was behind them, yeah, obviously, they were mainly about 70 kilometres an hour and both, all of us were in the slow lane so I indicated right, wait for at least three seconds, went straight, I went 100 kilometres an hour and I should have easily overtaken them and then the – it appeared that the front car had accelerated at the last second so I believe I was going to hit that car.

Q. Yes?

A. If I slowed down I could’ve been stuck between those two cars which could’ve caused an accident as well. If I were to slam the brakes my car could’ve spun around into the traffic from the other direction, because of that I had to accelerate to make sure I got through uninjured or, there’s no accident …

[20] In cross-examination Mr Mercer said that when the passing lane was reached “a lot of the other cars took off, I just stayed behind the other two slow ones and then realised that they were going too slow so I just decided to go in the overtaking lane and pass them”

[21] Mr Mercer denied there was plenty of room to allow him to merge with the cars he was overtaking so it was unnecessary for him to complete the overtaking manoeuvre. The cross-examination ended with this exchange:

Q. And what I’m saying to you is that there’s plenty of room there?

A. I had to make a snap decision so I’d rather take the safe option which results in no one dying than, yeah, having an accident.

[32] …Mr Mercer’s evidence was he acted (by exceeding the speed limit) to avoid death or injury. There is no evidence to the contrary. It is not necessary for Mr Mercer to prove his act was objectively necessary to avoid death or injury, just that his act was taken (in that he took it for the purpose) to avoid death or injury.

Result

[33] Judge Blackie erred in not giving reasons as to why Mr Mercer’s explanation did not amount to a defence to the infringement notice. In light of my analysis of the evidence I have concluded that led to a miscarriage of justice.

[34] The appeal is allowed. The infringement notice is dismissed.

So a successful appeal that shows there is a defence against exceeding the speed limit for the purposes of avoiding death or injury.

It doesn’t say whether Mr Mercer had legal advice, but he successfully appealed acting for himself.

The full decision: MERCER v POLICE [2019] NZHC 1957 [13 August 2019]