A woman who said she was blinded by the sun before hitting a 67-year-old man on his bicycle with her car was found not guilty of careless driving causing death by a jury last week.
Nicola O’Rourke (44) of 3 The Harbour, The Quay, Westport, was found not guilty of careless driving causing death. The case, relating to the death of Matt Walsh (67) on January 10 in 2015, was reported on by the Connaught Telegraph, the Mayo News and Western People newspapers.
O’Rourke said in court that at the time of the collision she was driving at around 40km/h on the L1816 road, near Aughagower village, around 7km outside Westport. The collision happened as the car O’Rourke was driving hit the victim, flinging him into the car’s windscreen and onto the road. As there were no brake marks at the scene, the speed of the car could not be estimated by investigating Gardai.
Walsh was a local man who was known to cycle the road daily. Media reports reported that the court hear that the victim was wearing high-vis and a helmet — although as the victim died as a result of spinal injuries, it is unclear why a helmet was mentioned in court.
An article in the Western People (behind a paywall), the newspaper quoted O’Rourke in court as saying “The road just disappeared” because of the strength of the sun and reported that “Ms O’Rourke said she was frightened and panicked, and believes she took her feet off the pedals of the car.”
A number of witnesses confirmed the strength of the sun. O’Rourke said she had pulled the sun visor down before the collision but was not wearing sun glasses. O’Rourke said she ‘felt a thud’ and that prompted her to look in her mirror, where she said she first spotted Matt Walsh, when he was on the ground after he had been hit by the car she was driving.
Last week before the verdict was heard, the Mayo News reported that she said in count that she wished it didn’t happen but that she did not know what she could have done differently.
A number of reports said outlined how O’Rourke said the sun hit her eyes after she drove around a bend in the road, although there was a conflict between a statement made to gardai and evidence given in court.
In a statement O’Rourke gave to Gardai in the days after the collision she had indicated that she was affected by the sun as she turned the corner, but, in court, she said that this happened closer to the point of impact. This prompted the prosecuting counsel to ask why, if the sun was not blinding her straight away, did she not see the victim between turning the corner and the sun filling her view. She said she did not know why but she said she was paying attention to the road.
According to the Mayo News, the prosecution in the case contended that O’Rourke could have taken evasive action rather than driving with sun in her eyes.
June 28: Westport woman found not guilty of careless driving causing death
June 21: Fatal-crash driver says she was blinded by sun
How cheap seems to be killing pedestrian and cyclists in Ireland, based on the last cases.
In my view this verdict is extremely disturbing. Traffic law on this point would seem to be very straightforward.
7 General Obligation Regarding Speed
7. A vehicle shall not be driven at a speed exceeding that which will enable its driver to bring it to a halt within the distance which the driver can see to be clear.
So if you cant see what is in front of you then are legally required to slow down or stop
The verdict exempts drivers of caution. We should rename drivers licenses as killer licenses as many Scandinavians do so people remember that their 2-ton metal cages are capable of doing very serious damage to others.
Wearing a helmet and high vis vest shouldn’t matter anymore than if a rape victim was wearing a short skirt. The reason it was mentioned though is because the motorist industry and their Garda lackies love to blame the victim.
This verdict follows on from the recent verdict on the horrific Dublin/Fairview hit and run case, where the driver only got 2.5 years. Shane Foran’s point is well made and needs to be highlighted.
So continuing to drive even though you cannot see is not careless? And the driver to this day “did not know what she could have done differently.”? Such as… maybe stop, slow to walking speed, use your hand to shield your eyes?
This is the same school of driving skill as people who drive in winter looking out a small porthole scraped in the ice/snow on the windscreen. No appreciation for the risks they are taking and the danger they are causing, piloting a tonne+ of metal around shared streets with little idea what is going on around them.
I know this incident is far from the recklessness and stupidity of the Fairview/Clontarf hit and run, but it is still most certainly careless driving.
I already feel vulnerable cycling into low sun. I can now add to that concern the likelihood that if anyone does drive into me they are unlikely to be prosecuted…
If only he had been wearing Hi-Vis and a helmet………. /s
This is an appallingly distorted and perverse verdict and one that I have come to expect from the entire enforcement (Garda), prosecutorial (DPP) and judicial system.
Shane nails it with his reference to road traffic law.
A colleague of mine was catapulted off his bike on the N81 by a driver who hit him from behind while driving on the hard-shoulder lane. She claimed the sun glare had blinded her.
The Garda was unwilling to take action against the driver in the first instance. However my colleague came to me to report his dismay and I then helped him write a detailed statement, which he presented to AGS. A prosecution eventually happened.
I am hearing about these subversions of justice quite regularly as the system seeks to ‘protect’ drivers (for which read insurers!).
Our colleagues in Cycling UK (CTC) have a ‘Road Justice’ campaign.
And as Citizen Wolf says … If only he had been wearing hi-vis and a helmet, which both AGS and RSA believe provide magical protection from idiots!
And the thing is….. he WAS wearing hi-vis and a helmet……
I imagine the RSA & Gards, when told of this, would then engage in hand-waving and say something like – ‘yes, but in lots of other cases the helmet & hi-vis saved the cyclist’.
And I say in response to that – You actually don’t have any such evidence. So, how about an evidence-based policy, not a prejudiced-based policy.