A Sign of the Times
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A Sign of the Times

The focus on reducing traffic fatalities should be on motorists, not what pedestrians are wearing.

The data on pedestrian fatalities is clear. Drivers travelling at speeds over 40 kilometres an hour on wide arterial roads are most likely to kill pedestrians. The most likely pedestrian victims are seniors, who neither react as quickly nor recover as well as younger individuals.

And yet on the platform at St. Patrick station there is an advertisement co-sponsored by the City and the TTC asking pedestrians to watch out. “Stay focused. Stay Safe,” warns the title. “Dark clothing can make it hard for motorists to see you at night.”

Traffic fatalities, while often treated as an unfortunate fact of life, are an important issue in the city. In 2013, Toronto saw its highest number of traffic fatalities in a decade: 63. There were more traffic fatalities than homicides that year. 2014 was better, with 51 traffic fatalities, including 31 pedestrian fatalities. There have already been 25 pedestrian fatalities this year, and 40 traffic fatalities overall.

An ad campaign to improve that number is worthwhile, but one that continues to shift the accountability from motorists to the most vulnerable users of the road, like Toronto Police Service’s ridiculous “Do the Bright Thing” campaign from two years ago, is misguided.

This is not a new phenomenon. In Historicist, David Wencer details the shift in responsibility from drivers to pedestrians in the 1930s and 1940s. Initially, this sentiment was considered laughable. But through a series of campaigns, the drivers-first sensibility is codified in both law and culture. Consider how laughable it would be to ask motorists to drive brightly coloured vehicles, so that pedestrians could better see them.

Luckily, there’s a solution for the dozens of traffic fatalities that occur every year: drivers could slow down. At speeds slower than 40 kilometres per hour, the number of traffic fatalities dramatically decreases. Of course, drivers would have to change their behaviour to do so.

But while we’re asking pedestrians to wear brightly coloured clothes, why not ask motorists to do something that works?

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