Every 9.6 minutes, a vehicle has a collision. One pedestrian is injured every 4.3 hours, and one cyclist is injured every 8.8 hours, as per the Collision Report 2009 from the City of Toronto. Following another near-death experience while navigating the mean streets on my lowly legs, I started wondering what could be done to make it better. Obviously, the possibility of causing death or bodily harm to others is not enough of a deterrent for drivers to be a little more patient and a little more aware. How many times have you crossed the street at an intersection, obeying the light, only to have cars turn into or in front of you? I always stop when I see a car coming directly at me, which drivers always take as a concession of the right of way. It’s actually more of a “I don’t really feel like getting my legs broken today, but thanks so much for the offer,” than a “Please, go ahead!” but that’s alright.
Education and awareness of road safety are always important. Everybody on the road needs to be careful and follow these rules, as this is not an “us vs them” debate. But I think people know these things, they just choose not to act in accordance with them. Most of the issues with reckless driving involve a lack of common sense as much as they involve not adhering to the Highway Traffic Act. Do not speed. Stop at red lights, stop signs, when streetcar doors are open. Do not drive into people when they have the right of way. So what else can be done? What can serve as an effective reminder? Harsher penalties! More enforcement! Maybe more red-light cameras could also deal with this. Maybe fines could be increased. Maybe the concept of fines is more tangible to some drivers than injuries and deaths. Maybe.
I have been lucky. Many have not. The City of Toronto Transportation Services website has wonderful reports outlining statistics and specifics of vehicle collisions involving pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles, complete with recommendations to make streets safer. The most recent concrete statistics available are from January to March 2010, which state that out of the 557 pedestrian-motor vehicle accidents, 520 resulted in injury and 9 were fatal. 296 were caused by drivers failing to yield the right of way. In the same period there were 127 cyclist-vehicle collisions, 104 resulted in injuries, and 43 of them were drivers who failed to yield the right of way. Of course, that isn’t biking season, so statistics from summer 2009 give a better idea of cyclist-vehicle collisions in the city. Between 120 and 180 accidents happened every month from May to October, with 993 causing injuries out of the total 1,155 accidents reported that year. And those are standard annual statistics. Most accidents happen downtown, during rush hour, and for pedestrians, over the winter months. Police say that when people bundle up, visibility is reduced. This was cited as a possible factor in the November 19 death of a man hit by a streetcar when crossing Spadina. He was the second cyclist and 36th person to die in a collision this year.
All of the reports recommend improvements in infrastructure, education, and enforcement. Although people respond well to enforcement safety campaigns, they fall back into bad habits when the campaigns end. Red light cameras have proven their benefit by reducing collisions by 25 per cent where they are used, and accidents typical of red light running by 60 per cent. Ontario increased the fine for running red lights from $180 to $325 in January 2010, recognizing the importance of treating these offenses seriously. Right now, the penalty for not stopping for open streetcar doors is $20 to $100, disrespecting pedestrians at crosswalks is $150 to $500, “careless driving” is $400 to $2,000, imprisonment, or license suspension, and speeding is at worst $9.75 per km and points from a license. It is true that when accidents happen, serious criminal charges can be brought and the costs are far greater. But there is no dollar value on a life. There is no dollar value on a life of disability and chronic pain. Perhaps cameras and increased fines can do for careless driving and other infractions what they have done for running red lights. In the meantime, let’s all keep our heads up and follow the rules of the road.