Lawyer loses appeal over bus lane fine

By Mathew Dearnaley

Barrister Nigel Cooke says he did not know the 'bus lane' sign meant cars were not allowed. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Barrister Nigel Cooke says he did not know the 'bus lane' sign meant cars were not allowed. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Auckland barrister Nigel Cooke, one of thousands of motorists caught driving in bus lanes, has lost a High Court appeal after arguing he was unaware cars were not allowed there.

He took an appeal on three grounds after JPs ordered him to pay a $150 fine, with court costs of $132.89.

However, Justice Tim Brewer rejected all three grounds in the High Court at Auckland, including a claim by Mr Cooke that he could not have been guilty of trespassing in the Symonds St bus lane as he did not know he was doing so.

The judge ruled that as the penalty and moral stigma attached to the offence were low, and there was no risk of imprisonment, there was no need for Auckland Transport to establish intent.

"To require the prosecution to prove knowledge or intention on such a minor matter would be against all common sense," he said.

Justice Brewer said Mr Cooke told the JPs that while he was driving along the road, he did not understand that the sign "bus lane" meant cars were not allowed.

Mr Cooke also said in evidence that he did not see the words "bus lane" written on the road.

In an affidavit to the High Court, he said that at no time did he see any sign or marking relating to the bus lane and any knowledge he had of these was from returning to the scene to investigate it.

Justice Brewer said Mr Cooke's plea of complete absence of fault would have needed evidential support, probably from an expert witness, that a reasonable and prudent driver confronted by the bus lane might well have not understood that driving in it was forbidden.

He also rejected a submission by Mr Cooke that the bus lane was invalid as it was inadequately marked.

He noted that there was a sign at the beginning of the 181m section of bus lane near Alten Rd carrying a bus symbol and the words "lane starts".

There was also a patch of green on Symonds St at the beginning of the section containing the words "bus lane" and a similar patch towards the end of the lane, before the intersection with Grafton Rd.

Justice Brewer said Mr Cooke's submission that the "bare minimum" of signage was inadequate carried little weight without supporting evidence.

Mr Cooke told the Herald he signed the affidavit in an attempt to clear up the conflicting account of what he said at the initial hearing.

He insisted he did not see the bus lane sign, which he said an Auckland Transport photograph showed was obscured by a truck and bus parked on the side of the road.

He said it was the first time he had driven up Symonds St since the bus lane was established.

"Hindsight's perfect but it was my first time up there - there were green bits and 180 metres of nothing in the middle," Mr Cooke said.

He said he took the case partly for the sake of other motorists who might find themselves in the same situation, and believed the judge might have been concerned about "opening the floodgates" if the appeal succeeded.

Auckland Transport has meanwhile withdrawn a $150 infringement notice against the owner of a car videoed crossing Grafton Bridge between 7am and 7pm, when it is deemed a bus lane, after accepting the driver was from outside Auckland and not familiar with the city.

The owner, who was not the driver, claimed signage on the bridge approach from Karangahape Rd was inadequate.

Transport organisation spokeswoman Sharon Hunter said signage on the bridge met all legal requirements, but a review of bus lanes due to be completed by the end of July "will tell us if it is adequate".

- NZ Herald

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