With a startling increase in traffic fatalities in 2015, the initial reaction is to blame the city’s increasingly erratic drivers, clearly distracted from their primary task of driving their vehicles and needlessly plowing into innocent pedestrians.
But that assumption would be incorrect. Pedestrians involved in traffic accidents need to take some responsibility as well.
In 2015, there were 64 traffic fatalities in Toronto, 38 of them were pedestrians. Those 38 are more than all types of traffic fatalities in Toronto in 2011.
Clearly our roads are getting more dangerous. They’re definitely getting more crowded, and with more cars and pedestrians crossing paths, more accidents are inevitable. But as much as drivers need to slow down and be more attentive, pedestrians need to be more self-aware as well.
Last fall, the TTC launched a advertising campaign aimed at getting pedestrians to be more attentive when crossing streets. The “Stay focused. Stay safe.” campaign included helpful tips for pedestrians, including crossing at traffic signals and crosswalks and that dark clothing can make it hard for drivers to see pedestrians at night.
These ads were quickly condemned on social media and in the news as “pedestrian blaming” because, according to Dylan Reid of Walk Toronto, “The reasons that pedestrians are being hit is generally, most often because the drivers are not paying attention and making mistakes.”
Of course. Let’s just skip the lesson about responsible crosswalk behaviour, because drivers are the ones to blame when pedestrians are struck anyway.
As both a driver and a pedestrian, I experience the tug-of-war between man and machine on Toronto’s streets every day. I have seen horrible drivers blasting through stop signs, turning without signal lights and easily going twice the posted limit on residential streets.
But I’ve also seen pedestrians wandering across the road without looking in either direction. I’ve seen kids dart into busy streets from between parked cars. I’ve seen people step right in front of approaching cars at crosswalks, stubbornly assuming the oncoming driver will stop for them. I’ve seen people walking into intersections focused more on the phone in their hands than the ‘don’t walk’ signal flashing across the street.
The bottom line is that everyone has to be more attentive. Yes, drivers need to exercise more patience and be more wary of pedestrians. But pedestrians need to be more wary of cars, too. They can’t assume that a car is going a certain direction or will stop. They have to respect the killing power of the machinery bearing down on them.
When I was learning how to drive, my father instructed me to “just assume everyone doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
In 20-plus years, having that outlook has kept me accident-free.
If more pedestrians would heed that advice when deciding to venture across a street, there could be fewer pedestrian accidents in 2016.