Instead of buying into the blame game, we all need to take responsibility for each other’s safety – and, of course, our own
This week, Lorraine Sommerfeld and David Booth found themselves at odds concerning the announcement about a new system by Ford, which can detect and warn a driver of pedestrians distracted by their phones – or, “petextrians.” Lorraine gives her argument “for” here, and you can follow the link at the end for David’s alternate viewpoint.
“I believe he was actually on that damn phone, because that’s all he had in his face was that damn phone,” he said. “I believe he was looking at it and tragically walked in front of a vehicle.”
This sentence is breaking my heart. Not because I knew the family of a young man killed as he crossed a busy undivided highway near my city, but because his father painfully, but immediately, sought to lay blame not on a motorist, but on his own obviously beloved son. Sometimes people we love do dumb things. And sometimes it ends tragically.
Many collisions between cars and pedestrians or cyclists go unreported, including those that happen on private property, such as parking lots; that skews statistics. Most of us see dozens of people texting and walking every day, which makes our anecdotal knowledge feel stronger than the fact that the majority of pedestrians in Toronto (Pedestrian and Cycle Safety Report) – in fact, 67 per cent – had the right of way at the time they were hit; the vehicle had the right of way only 19 per cent of the time.
When cars meet pedestrians, regardless of who is at fault, it is the pedestrian who pays the biggest price. Always. Same with cyclists. Yet it remains a loaded conversation to have, as if ascertaining blame could somehow change physics. With drivers being increasingly distracted, pedestrians have to remain more vigilant; instead, campaigns to increase pedestrian and cyclist safety end up with one side blaming the other, and injury and fatality rates that remain stubbornly unacceptable.
Available statistics about car/pedestrian collisions can be twisted and folded a thousand ways, but most fail to recognize the fact that we do not have roadways, nor a car culture: We have a transportation system, and that transportation system encompasses those who walk, cycle, use mobility devices, drive, ride motorcycles or jog. That’s a lot of demands to place on a system, but no one life in that system is worth more nor less than another.
Inattentive pedestrians are a problem; jaywalking pedestrians are also a problem. But if 67 per cent had the right of way when hit, it’s wrong to keep solely blaming pedestrians. The weather is a huge factor, too, as witnessed by a recent dark, rainy October day when 18 pedestrians were hit on Toronto streets – one fatally. I shudder when I realize someone completely shrouded in black is crossing a street in front of me at night, and I have no indication they are even there. Sure, reflective vests look dorky, but looking dead isn’t a good look for many, either.
We know the slower cars are going, the far greater the safety of pedestrians. Last year a Toronto Board of Health study announced a person hit by a car going 50 km/h has an 85 per cent chance of dying; a car going 30 km/h cuts the risk to five per cent – so many jurisdictions are dropping speed limits to 30 km/h. That Toronto report also shows that the majority of collisions (54 per cent) take place on major arterial roads, those with 60 km/h posted limits. The next largest group is the minor arterials, at 34 per cent, with posted limits of 50 km/h. I am not a fan of artificially slow speed limits, including the recent rush to drop most inner speed limits to 30 km/h. Pedestrians are at their highest risk (69 per cent) in an intersection; we need to address crossing behaviour on both sides of the equation. And while the highest incident of collision occurs in intersections, the highest rate of fatality occurs mid-artery: jaywalking. Cars have gathered some speed, and these are not the streets that are already at 40 km/h (now 30 km/h).
It’s easy to blame young people for texting and walking, though studies now show that drivers who text and drive cut across many age groups. And pedestrians over 65 are over-represented in fatality rates, comprising just 14 per cent of the population yet showing up as half the deaths. Seniors are more likely to have cognitive issues, to move more slowly and to have a harder time recovering from injuries. Our population is aging, and pedestrian injury and death has to focus not just on school zones, but all our residents.
Toronto Police Traffic Services recently did an education blitz warning pedestrians that they aren’t to enter a crosswalk when the countdown indicator has begun. I read a lot of yipping about that, but I’ve been totally unable to turn at a light countless times because the crosswalk is always full of pedestrians regardless of the light cycle. Some cities are removing turns – both right and left – from their major downtown arteries to prevent the constipated results of cars unable to make safe turns.
Ford recently announced its newest people saving technology, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection, which will no doubt bring the Darwinists in swinging. It will detect people walking with their nose in a phone and warn the drivers with literal bells and whistles, and if that driver doesn’t respond, the car will brake itself to avoid the collision. Frankly, after Ford announced its intent to move to fully automated vehicles by 2021, announcements like these will be coming forward faster and faster; they’re simply part of the mechanisms that will be in place when there is no driver at all, not necessarily as a must-have feature to help you kill fewer people. This kind of tech is about not needing a driver rather than needing to warn one.
People on foot and on bicycles or any other device are part of our transportation system, as surely as any motorist. We have to do a better job at preventing metal from meeting flesh, but it’s going to take solutions and respect from all players. Drivers can’t rely on their car to warn them, people on foot need to be visible and aware and everyone has to know the rules aren’t just for everyone else.
See David’s opposing viewpoint at “Petextrians” proving Darwin right