When Mark James set off on his motorcycle on a sunny Sunday morning in November 2011 for Gladstone, he had no idea that a few hours hence his life would be forever changed.
Safely outfitted for motorcycle riding and enjoying the ride, he was planning to overnight in Gladstone before starting a workplace training course the next day for Queensland Rail staff.
An experienced rider, James was going south on his bright orange KTM Tower via country roads to avoid the Bruce Highway.
Grazier Ed Maxwell began his journey to Townsville from Banana, west of Gladstone, in his Land Cruiser ute, mid-afternoon.
He too was taking an inland route – unfamiliar to him – but unlike James who was not pressed for time, needed to keep up his pace to arrive in the northern city by the following morning.
Their destinies touched at 5pm that day in a collision on a bend in a 100 kph gravel stretch of the Baralaba-Duaringa Road.
Both drivers testified to two discernible tracks in the middle of the gravel road that represented the path commonly taken by vehicles in the absence of oncoming traffic.
It was wide enough to accommodate the width of two passing cars or trucks and well and truly wide enough to accommodate a car and a motorcycle. For bends, it was obvious that adjustments to speed and position (in relation to the centreline) would be required.
As noted by Justice James Henry in the Supreme Court at Mackay, “these observations are reflected day-in-day-out on gravel roads throughout Australia in drivers using the smoothest part of the gravel surface to drive on, which will not always be to the left, but slowing and moving and staying a safe distance to the left to pass oncoming traffic”.
Although nothing like a hairpin, the bend had a sight distance through the curve of just 75 metres according to Intersafe engineer Brendan McDougal.
In McDougal’s view, the drivers could have traversed it without loss of traction at low speeds but it nevertheless called for extra care.
James swore that on the straight prior to the bend he saw dust and slowed to 30 – 40 kph and “moved out of the left-hand wheel track to near the left-hand edge of the road” where further slowing was needed because of the deep loose gravel towards the fringe of the carriageway.
Maxwell’s vehicle had skidded under brakes and slid across the middle wheel tracks and collided with James on the opposite side of the road.
The court felt compelled to conclude in such circumstances that Maxwell had been “travelling too fast to safely manoeuvre around the bend without encroaching into the path of oncoming traffic”.
Mark James sustained severe leg injuries and was airlifted to Gladstone hospital.
Damages were ordered to be paid by Suncorp at $615k