Lorry driver escapes lifetime ban despite involvement in two fatalities

By BikeRadar, UK | Friday, August 3, 2012 11.10am

The lorry driver at the centre of the deaths of two Londoners has been jailed for four years and banned from driving for six.

Portugese national Joao Pedro Correia Lopes, 56, pleaded guilty to the charge of causing death by dangerous after hitting 97-year-old pedestrian Nora Gutman in June 2011. He was also behind the wheel of the tipper truck which hit and killed 30-year-old cyclist Eilidh Cairns in Notting Hill in February 2009.

While a verdict of accidental death was recorded by the coroner in the Cairns incident, Lopes pleaded guilty to a charge of driving with defective vision, for which he received three points on his licence and a £200 fine.

The court heard during the trial that since the death of Ms Cairns he'd been involved in numerous accidents in his truck and that when his lorry struck Mrs Gutman he wasn't wearing the glasses that had been a condition of his licence since the death of Ms Cairns.

According to the Camden News Journal, the court also heard that police investigations into the death of Mrs Gutman revealed the defendant had placed a magnet in his vehicle to disable the odometer and speedometer, essentially to conceal how far he'd driven and allow him to ignore the legal limits on time he could drive without taking a break. It also caused the automatic braking system to be compromised. He received an additional 12 months for knowingly causing false data to be recorded, but this will run concurrently to the four-year sentence.

After the hearing, the families of the deceased said their real concern was not how long Lopes would spend in custody but the fact that he could still get behind the wheel of a vehicle once his ban has expired.

“We find the possibility that Lopes could ever drive again completely outrageous," said Nick Alexandra, Mrs Gutmann's grandson.

Ms Cairns' sister Kate, who set up the See Me, Save Me campaign in the wake of her death, said she was dismayed there is no national database to flag up drivers with a history of being involved in such crashes and believed more could be done to help eliminate HGV driver blind spots.

She said she felt there was “an ingrained perception of the guilt of cyclists, an attitude that these things just happen, which is why we campaigned for the word ‘crash’ not ‘accident’ to be used by all media, because ‘accident’ presumes that it’s nobody’s fault and it’s not preventable”.

"We have affordable technology such as cameras and sensors which eliminate blind spots. It is installed on new cars to protect bumpers so why do we value the life of a cyclist less than the sheen of a bumper?

"Stricter liability, as in so many other countries, would incentivise employers to equip their drivers properly and to train them to do the job asked of them. It would also ensure truck companies and construction clients set and enforce proper standards and best practice.

"Having campaigned for three years since Eilidh's death so others do not have to die I am here because of the death of another amazing woman, Nora Gutman, who was run over by the same kind of truck by the same driver. None of us should be here to today and that includes Lopes.

"Blind spot danger could have and should have been designed out. Because our transport and justice systems tolerate risk on our roads, my family and the Gutmans are shattered, whilst that of Lopes will suffer his imprisonment. No-one should have had to suffer, least of all Nora and my sister."

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