If road crime was treated as real crime, we’d ban blindspots and dangerous drivers

While much of Britain was celebrating Bradley Wiggins win gold on Wednesday, a much sadder scenario was unfolding just a few miles away. Joao Pedro Correia Lopes, a 56 year old lorry driver, was sentenced for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving for killing Nora Gutmann on a pedestrian crossing outside Madame Tussauds on 17 June 2011.

For August National Road Victim Month RoadPeace is calling for the end of discrimination of road crash victims and for road crime to be treated as real crime. Few cases highlight more clearly than this the importance of treating road crime as real crime, and illustrate how lives are needlessly lost when the criminal justice system fails.

RoadPeace joined Kate Cairns and Martin Porter  to attend the sentencing.With Nora’s family outside the UK, Kate Cairns represented the family at the trial. Kate’s sister Eilidh had been run over and killed by a tipper lorry driven by Lopes on 5 February 2009, 28 months before Nora. She was cycling to work. Eilidh’s death was treated as an ‘accident’ with little resources allocated to its investigation. Only after much intervention by the family, was Lopes’ eyesight tested, some 14 weeks after the fatal crash. He failed the eyesight test and pleaded guilty to driving with defective vision in November 2010. Whilst he had not been charged with causing Eilidh’s death, a subsequent review by the Met, with interviews of the witnesses found by the Cairns family, concluded the evidence indicated he had caused her death. By this time, Lopez had already been charged with Causing Death by Dangerous Driving for the killing of Nora Gutmann, after admitting he was not wearing his glasses at the time of the crash, as required by the conditions of his driving license.

Yesterday Lopes received a four year custodial sentence, due in part to the several collisions that took place between the two deaths, and to which he had admitted civil liability. The Gutmann family had said that Nora would not have wanted Lopes imprisoned. The Cairns family had earlier stated that jail was not the justice they wanted.

What both families wanted was for Lopes to be taken off the road permanently, to be given a life time driving ban. Yet he was only give a six year driving ban with an extended driving test required before getting his license back. RoadPeace has previously highlighted the reluctance to use lifetime or even lengthy driving bans–in 2011, only 3 drivers were given lifetime bans after causing a death.

As well as calling for thorough police investigations with the police treating collision scenes as crime scenes so that evidence, including witnesses, is not lost and justice denied families, the Cairns family have spent the past 42 months campaigning with RoadPeace for HGV safety technology that would eliminate blindspots on lorries.

Eilidh did not have to die. Nora did not have to die. The Lopes’ family did not have to lose their main breadwinner and care provider for their adult disabled son.

And if road crime was treated as real crime we’d ban blindspots and dangerous drivers, keeping them off the road for life.

PS A note on calls for mandatory helmets

Eilidh Cairns was wearing a helmet when she was killed. Not surprisingly, Nora Gutmann was not. A helmet did not save Eilidh nor would it have helped Nora.  But changes to the lorry, including motion sensors, cameras and automatic emergency braking systems, would have. We need to reduce danger at source, not blame the victim.