Rethink urged on overtaking school buses

THE law in some American states which prohibits any vehicle from passing a school bus when children are stepping on or off should be considered in Ireland, a High Court judge suggested yesterday.

Mr Justice Bryan McMahon was speaking in a case where €200,000 was awarded to a Co Cork schoolboy, Fionnán McSwiney, knocked down after stepping off a bus.

The judge, who has written a book on the law relating to this type of case, approved a settlement to a Crookstown, Co Cork, boy who was nine when the accident happened five years ago.

“It is a pity we don’t have legislation some American states have,” Mr Justice McMahon said. “The buses have a strobe-type lighting when they are stopped and other vehicles have to stop. If a driver does pass the bus (when children are getting off) he can be prosecuted for a criminal offence.”

Dr John O’Mahony, senior counsel, agreed cases involving accidents at or near school buses were often fraught and passing drivers were required to exercise extra care to allow for the unpredictable and sudden movements of children.

The comments were made in the context of a civil case which was before the High Court sitting in Cork for approval of a settlement offer by the insurers for the defendant owner and driver of a lorry which collided with Fionnán McSwiney on March 16, 2006, as he got off the bus at Crookstown village.

Dr O’Mahony SC said Fionnán (now 14) got off the bus and saw his father standing on the footpath on the other side of the road and went across to him.

Dr O’Mahony said the defence had indicated, if the case had gone to trial, the issue of liability for the accident would have been hotly contested. He said that estimates of how long it would take a nine-year-old boy to get from the path to the point of impact were put at 0.75 of a second and that the reaction time of a driver at 20mph was one second.

Dr O’Mahony said the defence would argue the speed of the lorry was not even 20mph at the time.

In those circumstances, Mr Justice McMahon said: “It is a complex case and there is a danger of a finding of contributory negligence — I have no difficulty approving the settlement.”

The €200,000 will be lodged in court until the plaintiff reaches the age of 18.

The defendants in the case were, respectively, the owner and driver of the lorry— Masterville Ltd of Blarney Business Park and Michael O’Brien of Glenview Park, Monacanappa, Blarney, Co Cork.

Chatting to the young plaintiff, who has recovered well from his injuries, the judge asked him if he played any sport, and Fionnán told him he played Gaelic football. The Kerry judge joked that they might meet in Killarney some time even if they were wearing different colours.

The young plaintiff brought the case through his mother Bridget McSwiney.

- The Department of Education said last night a flashing light system for the back of school buses is being considered. A 2008 pilot scheme in Carnew, Co Wicklow; Castlebar, Co Mayo, and Ferbane, Co Offaly, assessed the behaviour of drivers and pedestrians after flashing lights were installed on more than 40 buses to alert motorists when children were getting on or off.

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