Mist and sun glare effectively blinded driver when she hit Waterlooville lollipop man

IN COURT Lauren Paul
IN COURT Lauren Paul
Portsmouth Crown Court in Winston Churchill Avenue

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A DRIVER may have been ‘effectively blind’ for more than 20 seconds because of mist and sun glare when she hit a lollipop man, a jury was told.

Prosecutors at Portsmouth Crown Court claimed that Lauren Paul’s visibility was significantly impaired when she was driving down Tempest Avenue in Waterlooville and collided with 82-year-old Ray Elsmore.

Ray Elsmore

Ray Elsmore

A 12-strong jury has previously heard that great-grandfather Mr Elsmore, of Florentine Way, Waterlooville, was helping a pregnant woman cross the road and was standing in the southbound carriageway when the collision happened at 3.05pm on December 5 last year.

He died later that day in hospital from his injuries.

Paul, 22, of Ramblers Way, Waterlooville, who works as a sports technician at South Downs College, was driving back to work in her Nissan Micra after taking a two-hour break at home, the court heard.

She denies causing death by careless driving.

Matthew Lawson, prosecuting barrister, said Paul had told a witness at the scene, Samantha Nol, that she had put her sun visor down, that the car windscreen was misting up and that she was fiddling with the knobs to turn the heating up.

But Paul told the court she could not remember speaking to anyone at the scene after the incident.

Mr Lawson said: ‘I am going to suggest there was mist in your car that day, that it was affecting your visibility and you did not slow down and stop.’

Paul, who wept several times while giving evidence, said the sun was directly shining in her face, but she could see the road surface ahead of her.

She said: ‘I felt my driving was to the conditions.

‘I reduced my speed.

‘I was going at about 25mph.’

Mr Lawson quoted the Highway Code and suggested Paul should have slowed down or stopped because of the sun glaring in her face.

Mr Lawson said: ‘You have driven in fact a considerable distance effectively blind to anyone who was in the road or walking across the road.’

Paul sobbed: ‘I was just driving. I could see the road.’

Paul denied she was fiddling with the fan knobs on her dashboard as she said she knew exactly where they were.

Giving evidence, Paul, who is a well-respected football coach at South Downs College, said she was ‘very aware’ of the sun glare.

She said: ‘It affected my vision but I could still see in front of me.’

She said she pulled down the sun visor to a vertical position - rather than against the windscreen - as she is quite short and straightened her back to get a better view as she drove down the road.

Paul said: ‘I genuinely thought I had been bricked.

‘It felt like it came from the top rather than directly at me.

‘I only realised it was a person when they rolled down my bonnet.

‘I was in complete shock. I had no idea what was going on - where that person had come from, where they were standing. No idea.’

The court heard Paul had never driven on the road at that time before in that direction as she is normally driving home going north at about 3.45pm.

The jury was shown a replica of Mr Elsmore’s bright yellow and orange uniform and an orange cap, as well as the lollipop sign with the words ‘STOP’ in the centre of the disc.

Mr Lawson said the Highway Code stated that drivers should pay ‘special attention’ when driving through roads near schools and look out for pedestrians.

Paul said: ‘I could see from the sides and the road in front of me.

‘I just could not see directly in front of me.

‘I paid as much attention to the road as I felt was necessary.’

Paul said the mist was only covering the left-hand corner of the windscreen around the tax disc.

Mr Lawson asked: ‘If you were concentrating on the road, you must have seen him even if only shortly before you hit him?’

Paul replied: ‘The first time I saw him was on my windscreen.’

Defending barrister Ian Hope produced evidence which suggested that the combination of the sun glare and the fluorescent uniform could have stopped any driver from seeing Mr Elsmore.

A report by Dr Martin Langham, who specialises in the effect of glare on drivers, states that ‘it is not known how well such garments can be detected by approaching drivers’.

He said the brightly coloured uniform could have acted as ‘disruptive camouflage’.

His statement added: ‘The pedestrian’s uniform in both its design and pattern may have served to reduce or interfere with the driver’s visibility.’

The court heard Paul had passed her driving test in December 2008 and was a competent and considerate driver.

On the day of the incident, she was well-rested and had not drunk any alcohol in the past 24 hours.

Yvonne Elliott, the former head of the sport and public services department at South Downs, said Paul had been ‘an outstanding student’ who she took as on as apprentice and then as an employee.

She said: ‘She was always willing to help everybody and was just generally a really lovely young woman.

‘She was devastated.’

The court heard Paul had not driven a car since the incident.

Paul was visibly upset throughout the evidence, resting her head on the table several times.

Work colleague Lee Hunt, a former army captain and now a lecturer at South Downs, said: ‘She’s very diligent, caring, honest and very loyal.

‘I have seen her change from a very gregarious young woman with a bright future.

‘Her whole demeanour changed.’

(Proceeding)