Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heads up, pedestrians

Nine fatalities in nine days

The numbers are shocking — nine pedestrians in the GTA killed in just nine days — and for many in this city, the grim reaper is obvious.

The terrible, evil car.

But as much as the anti-car lobby will not want to hear it, the ones at fault are just as often the pedestrians themselves.

No one wants to blame the victim, and no one would argue that the battle between a person and 1,000 kg of crushing metal is an even one. But that said, too many pedestrians strut about our streets as entitled or distracted or as aggressive as their similarly guilty counterparts behind the wheel.

Heads down, iPods in their ears, running for the bus or their streetcar, protected by their God-given right to step into live traffic while drivers screech to a halt.

Case in point: Wednesday’s early morning fatality in which a woman in her ’30s, dressed in dark clothing, attempted to cross Dufferin St., just south of Eglinton Ave. W., not at the lights but at a point where the driver in a blue minivan had no ability to see her until it was too late.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” says Toronto Police Const. Hugh Smith. By crossing mid-block, he adds, you’re “literally taking your life in your hands.”

Contrary to what most of us have always assumed, the traffic services officer says there is no law against jaywalking in Ontario. Instead, pedestrians are allowed to cross as long as the coast is clear.

But that doesn’t mean you can dart across the street and expect that oncoming traffic will be able to stop in time.

Jaywalkers, though, seem to think they can.

“In many cases, they feel they’re the pedestrians and cars have an obligation to stop for them and they can just go,” says Joanne Banfield, manager of trauma prevention programs at Sunnybrook hospital.

“That’s why one of our messages is, ‘You may have the right of way, but you may end up being dead right.’”

Together with the Toronto Area Safety Coalition, Sunnybrook launched iNavigait in October to promote better pedestrian safety awareness, with their motto: “Cross the street as if your life depends on it.”

Pedestrian injuries and fatalities spike with the shorter daylight hours between November and late February, with seniors being the most vulnerable, Banfield says. Last year, 19 of the 31 pedestrians killed in Toronto were over 65.

She advises pedestrians to be more visible by wearing brighter colours, make eye contact with drivers before crossing and always wait until the walking person icon appears on the signal before stepping off the curb.

“A lot of people are not paying attention as they’re crossing. They’re having conversations or they’re listening to music with ear buds in their ears or they’re texting or they’re looking for their bus,” Banfield says. “Pedestrians have to take responsibility for their actions as well.”

Run off his feet these last nine days, Const. Smith lays the blame for the recent carnage as much on pedestrians as he does on motorists. Of the four recent fatalities in Toronto, two involved errors made by those who were struck and killed: Wednesday’s jaywalking accident on Dufferin and on Jan. 12, an 80-year-old woman who died after crossing when drivers had the right of way at Dundas St. W. and Roncesvalles Ave.

As a longtime officer with traffic services, he’s seen the guilty on both sides: The distracted drivers who have mowed down pedestrians while barrelling through their right turns on red lights and pedestrians getting clipped as they tried bolting across live traffic lanes in a dangerous game of leapfrog. Each is in their own cocoon, equally oblivious to the other.

“There’s responsibility on both parts,” Smith says of drivers and pedestrians. “There’s complacency and poor choices on both sides. To me it’s totally equal.”

There is no magic bullet, he says. No easy solution. Instead, it’s about everyone stepping out of their respective bubbles and communicating like human beings again: being considerate, making eye contact, respecting each other.

“Unfortunately our society is in too much of a hurry and pedestrians and drivers aren’t paying attention,” agrees Banfield, who is also chairman of the Toronto Area Safety Coalition. “Society really needs to slow down.


  1. 80% percent of all rear end collisions (the most frequent vehicle accident) are caused by driver inattention, following too closely, external distraction (talking on cell phones, shaving, applying makeup, fiddling with the radio or CD player, texting, etc.) and poor judgment. I doubt if we’ll ever stop the madness so I got one of these
    Makes a big difference if you’re hit in the rear!

  2. This spike in pedestrians being hit and killed is quite disturbing and like Const. Smith indicated...blame can fall on both sides.

    However, I do believe there is a silver bullet to addressing this attention. Keeping in mind the motto of iNavigait “Cross the street as if your life depends on it” (because it really does), how about just paying a little more attention to your environment?

    I know "common sense" isn't all that common anymore but when it comes to operating a motor vehicle or crossing the street, there has to be a certain level of attention given to that task. It's "situational awareness" that is lacking here. Obviously a alien concept to some. What about a sense of "self preservation"? If I'm about to step onto a street, I'm going to make sure that I'm not putting myself in harms way.

    Our roadways are by nature a dangerous place. Pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, car & drivers...we are all at risk of being injured.
    All it takes is one person to not pay attention to cause a collision. Then again, it often only takes one person who is paying attention to avoid it.


  3. Another lame analysis of the situation. The reporter takes exactly one example and builds a whole case of pedestrian inattentiveness and wrong-doing. Then claim that all we can do is throw up our hands that nothing can be done. "We're just too much in a hurry."

    Gee perhaps you could compare these pedestrian death rates with other cities? Perhaps we could look at the roads that were built for cars with no consideration given to pedestrian safety? It's a fact that lower speed limits on cars drastically increases the chances of pedestrians surviving a collision. At 50km/hr a person has 20% chance of survival. But at 30km/hr an 80% chance of survival. What we need to do is slow cars down!

    And let's start experimenting on how to do that: post lower speed limits, narrow the roads, narrow the intersections, ban right turns on red, and so on.

    This blame the victim is ridiculous. It's just people who are in love with their hunk of steel and don't care who gets killed.

  4. Anonymous,
    You make some great points in regards to slowing down and survival percentages. You missed the point though about the victim.

    If a pedestrian runs out in front of a moving car and does not afford the driver enough time or notice so that the driver can attempt to avoid the impending collision; then who is the victim? The driver or the pedestrian.

    The pedestrian is the injured party, but a victim?

    Once a collision has occurred, we will tell the story of what happened, give an account of the event and most importantly talk about how to prevent it.

    If, from time to time it is perceived that we are laying blame, then that is an unfortunate consequence. I would rather be accused of laying blame than not trying to prevent similar collisions by warning pedestrians and drivers alike of the dangers of not looking, thinking, being cautious or aware.

    It is far better to prevent a collision than to investigate one.