Pedestrian & Cyclist Deaths: A Major Public Health Issue

Listeners of CBC’s Sunday Edition recently heard Michael Enright’s short but scathing essay on pedestrian deaths in Canada’s large cities such as Toronto. In it, Enright suggests that the problem with road deaths is that “nobody cares”.

“The politicians who run the police department don’t care. If they did, they would put more cops with radar guns in high speed areas.

City councils don’t care. If they did, they would lower speed limits on all streets to 25 km/hour.

Car makers don’t care. Their mission, as they see it, is to protect drivers and passengers with seat belts and airbags; not pedestrians.”

Enright goes on to explain why politicians are averse to pushing for changes that will produce actual change, and concludes, grimly, that “Until pedestrian deaths in the country’s larger cities are treated as a major public health issue, not very much will happen. Cars will continue to speed and cyclists and pedestrians will continue to die.”

Despite this stark reality, advocates are fighting harder than ever for safer streets where people can walk, roll, and cycle without risking their lives.

One example of this is Bill 62, the Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Act, 2018. This private members’ bill, now in its third attempt to be passed, would create more severe penalties for driving offenses under the Highway Traffic Act that result in the death or serious injury of a vulnerable road user. These stiffer penalties include community service, license suspension and driver re-education. Drivers found guilty would also be required to attend court for sentencing and to hear victim impact statements.

In the bill, “vulnerable roads users” include pedestrians, cyclists, mobility device users, roadway workers and emergency responders outside their motor vehicle. Bill 62 received first reading in November 2018. You can sign the petition to the Legislative Assemble of Ontario in support of the bill here.

People who have lost a loved one to road violence are leading the fight. Friends and Families for Safe Streets is an advocacy group working to “end traffic violence in Toronto by changing laws, enforcement, street design, public attitudes and traffic culture to make our vibrant streets safer and more equitable for all road users, while supporting those who are survivors.”. And on a related note, you may have also seen the efforts of the group Advocacy for the Respect of Cyclists: they “place memorial white bikes, known as Ghost Bikes, as memorials to fallen cyclists”. In 2018 alone they installed nine ghost bikes in Toronto.

It’s not accurate to say that “nobody cares” about road deaths in Ontario: a great many people dedicate their time, energy and even political clout to changing the culture of road violence. But until the elimination of road deaths becomes a common goal for politicians and lawmakers, it will surely continue to feel that way.