Case Study

Driver of lorry which killed Eilidh Cairns fined £200 for defective eyesight

Incident date: 
Thu, 5 Feb 2009

The driver of the lorry which killed cyclist Eilidh Cairns has been fined £200 for defective eyesight, after prosecutors decided there was insufficient evidence to press charges for either a “dangerous” or a “careless” driving offence. Driver Joao Lopes was also ordered to pay £150 costs and a £15 surcharge and received 3 points on his licence. He was allowed to resume driving, using glasses.

The 30 year old TV producer was killed on Pembridge Road, near Notting Hill Gate, on 5th Feb 2009. She was crushed under a 32 tonne truck driven by Joao Lopes, but was still able to talk to witnesses and was airlifted to hospital but later died.

There were suspicions – not borne out in court – that Lopes’s mirrors were incorrectly adjusted, and that his eyesight may have been defective, but the police did not test his sight until 3 months later. It was found to be slightly under the standard required.

At an inquest in January 2010 the coroner found that the road was dangerously narrow – just 2m wide whereas Lopes’s lorry was 2.5m wide. Eilidh’s family subsequently mounted a Judicial Review challenge of the coroner’s finding that Eilidh’s death was “accidental” – initial permission has been granted and the full hearing is now awaited.

The Crown Prosecution Service meanwhile decided not to pursue either a “careless” or “dangerous” driving charge for lack of clear evidence. Instead they prosecuted him for driving with uncorrected defective eyesight, a charge which makes no reference to the resulting fatality. At first Lopes disputed this but pleaded guilty immediately before trial.

After the hearing, Eilidh’s sister Kate said:

‘In the eyes of the law and our justice system it is finished, justice has been done. But doesn’t that show how defective our justice system is?

‘During the inquest it was said she was more than likely in front of the lorry. But we have no further evidence of what happened, no further investigation and because he pleaded guilty we do not have all the facts.

‘This shows the inadequacies in our justice system in dealing with the death of a cyclist – a fine and three points on his licence.

‘We still don’t know what happened and it leaves you with a sense of hopelessness.’

Lopes went on to have at least 3 more driving collisions before killing Nora Gutmann on a pedestrian crossing in London in 2011 whilst driving without his glasses. He was imprisoned for 4 years for Nora’s death and given only a 6 year driving ban.

  • UPDATE 28/09/2014

The family of Eilidh Cairns have called on politicians to act on the findings of a study warning “every day of delay is risking another avoidable death on our roads” The study by Loughborough University found that changes to the design of HGV cabs could save hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians lives. The “Direct Vision” lorry concept would increase the driver’s field of view in front and to the sides of the lorry by 50% compared to today’s designs. Sister of Eilidh, Kate Cairns said the study substantiated the family’s calls that direct vision will save lives and called for politicians to act. “This study is proving what is obvious to us but logic states that legislation and policy must be evidence led. Now we have the evidence, I trust politicians will have the vision to do the right thing and ensure manufacturers design safer lorries as a matter of urgency”

CTC's view: 

The inquest failed to establish how the collision occurred, and the driver’s guilty plea to a minor offence meant that there was no other opportunity for evidence to be heard. Nonetheless, it seems hard to believe that the only offence involved in this case was driving with uncorrected defective eyesight. A cyclist is not so hard to see that a person with sight only just below the required standard (and thus plausibly unaware of their sight defect) would therefore be unable to see a cyclist.

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