Right of way proves fatal

On the morning of Friday 15 March 2013, Memphis van Veen crossed the Noord Brabantlaan in Eindhoven on her scooter at a traffic light. The light was green. As she crossed the bus lane, the 18-year-old nursing student was hit by an unmarked police car with a siren and flashing lights. Memphis died at the scene of the accident.

The Dutch National Police Internal Investigations Department and the Zeeland and West Brabant police force are investigating the causes of this fatal accident. The legal issue is whether the driver of the car, who formed part of an assault team, is liable for the consequences of this accident.

The Dutch Highway Code states that road users like Memphis must give way to the driver of a ‘right-of-way vehicle’. Even if they have a green light. Marked police cars are even exempted from the Highway Code. Despite this, it seems that the police are liable in this case.

The drivers of police cars, fire engines and ambulances do have right of way when they have their sirens and flashing lights on. But they are prohibited by law from ‘acting such that a traffic accident occurs resulting in the death of another person’. In fact, decided cases show that they are expected to exercise extra caution. Nor are they permitted to take greater risks than acceptable in the relevant situation.

Eye witness statements report that two unmarked police cars approached the crossing at high speed. One of them appears to have stopped but the car that caused the accident continued to drive at high speed. It is unclear why the driver of this car did not, so it seems, give any consideration when approaching a red light to the possibility that traffic might be crossing. No emergency call can justify reckless driving with a high risk of fatalities