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Preventable Deaths – Asking All The Wrong Questions 82

Woman killed by truck in Toronto

Photo by James Schwartz / The Urban Country (via Instagram)

Yesterday morning a 30-year-old woman who was walking downtown was hit by a truck, pinned under the wheels and later died from her wounds. The woman’s death is eerily similar to the death of Jenna Morrison last November. Jenna was also run over by the rear wheels of a turning truck that was lacking side guards.

Coincidentally, I was walking the same path as the deceased woman about 45 minutes after the fatal collision took place while taking my daughter to daycare. When I passed, the woman had already been taken to the hospital and all that remained was a large truck and a blanket underneath the truck in front of the rear wheels. The blanket was given to the woman by a construction worker who comforted the woman in her final moments of life.

This tragic loss is heart-wrenching, and sadly all too common. Eleven people, or “pedestrians” have been killed so far this year by motor vehicles in Toronto. Every four hours a pedestrian is injured in Toronto by a motor vehicle. That’s 2,300 injured pedestrians each year on average.

In the same time that 11 people have been killed by motor vehicles so far this year, 13 people have been killed by guns. While our society tolerates death by motor vehicles, we spend tens of millions of dollars each year fighting to reduce gun deaths.

Pedestrians are collateral damage

Death by motor vehicles are simply considered collateral damage in our car-dominated society. When a pedestrian is killed, it is common to hear a remark such as “they were probably talking on their cell phone while walking”, or “they were likely jaywalking” without even considering the driver might have been distracted or driving dangerously.

Unless the driver of the motor vehicle was intoxicated or grossly negligent, our media & society create excuses to absolve the driver from all blame, and drivers are rarely charged when pedestrians are killed.

When a pedestrian crosses mid block (which is legal in Toronto by the way), they are called reckless, but when motorists drive over the speed limit (which is illegal in Toronto by the way), it is called “safe driving to keep with the flow of traffic”.

Our society goes to great lengths to shift the blame and avoid getting to the root cause of these deaths in order to retain the privilege of driving dangerous motor vehicles unimpeded, without being held accountable for our actions.

Our society is all about personal responsibility – except when it pertains to drivers of motor vehicles. In those cases, society often places blame on the victim, labels the death an unfortunate accident, blaming the lack of helmet in bicycle deaths, or society looks for other external factors to shift the blame to.

The Toronto Star article covering the collision that resulted in the woman’s death clearly illustrates this blame shifting.

Here are all of the quotes in the article regarding the police investigation:

“Police will determine if the sun was a factor”

“Police will also determine if she (the deceased woman) was talking on her cellphone or was distracted.”

“Police have also secured video which may show how fast the truck was travelling on the one-way street”

“Police must determine if the truck’s speed and whether the driver was turning on a green, amber or red light”

Nowhere in the article does it say the police are investigating to see if the truck driver was talking on his cell phone or was otherwise distracted. Instead, the police are looking to see if perhaps the sun is to blame, or if the woman was on her cell phone when the truck struck her.

How is whether the woman was on her cell phone or not relevant to the investigation? Isn’t it more relevant to see whether the truck driver was on his cell phone?

It is clear from the position of the truck that the woman was walking eastbound through the intersection on the one-way street while the truck driver was making a left turn. An investigation doesn’t get much easier than this.

If the woman was “jaywalking” through a red light, then the driver too was illegally running a red light.

It is also irrelevant to investigate whether the truck driver was driving over the posted 50km/h speed limit. If the driver was making a turn at an intersection at faster than 50km/h then I am fairly certain more than one person would have been killed.

Asking all the wrong questions

Clearly the police are asking all the wrong questions, or it could simply be bad reporting by the Toronto Star, making the Toronto police appear to be inept.

I am not advocating for extremely harsh punishment of the truck driver. He already has to live the rest of his life knowing that a 30-year-old woman died under his wheels. But he needs to be held accountable for his mistake and other drivers need to be told over-and-over that their actions can have deadly effects.

Education is very important, but we also to take traffic calming measures, and at the very least these types of trucks should be mandated to be equipped with side guards.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we continue to shift blame from drivers and avoid getting to the root cause of the problem (dangerous, distracted, and aggressive driving of deadly motor vehicles), then these avoidable, unnecessary deaths will continue.

How many more of these senseless deaths will it take before our society starts to wake up and start taking preventative measures to avoid more deaths?

My sincerest condolences go out to the family of the woman who died yesterday morning while doing nothing other than walking to work. I hope something positive comes out of her senseless, avoidable, and unnecessary death.

James D. Schwartz is the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    Society generally takes the view that those pedestrians or cyclists who enter the space that rightfully belongs to vehicles (roads) do so at their own risk. Any resulting accidents must imply a greater or lesser degree of negligence by the pedestrian or cyclist. This view reflects a stunning public relations victory achieved by the vehicle lobby in the first two decades of the last century – when society was somehow persuaded to handover vast areas of public space to vehicle drivers. It is time for a counter-offensive and a fairer distribution of the land we all own.

  • http://www.facebook.com/John.S.Rawlins John Rawlins

    Society generally takes the view that those pedestrians or cyclists who enter the space that rightfully belongs to vehicles (roads) do so at their own risk. Any resulting accidents must imply a greater or lesser degree of negligence by the pedestrian or cyclist. This view reflects a stunning public relations victory achieved by the vehicle lobby in the first two decades of the last century – when society was somehow persuaded to handover vast areas of public space to vehicle drivers. It is time for a counter-offensive and a fairer distribution of the land we all own.

  • messenger666

    First let me say I speak as a pedestrian, cyclist AND car driver.

    At all times no matter whether walking, cycling or driving we must be aware of our surroundings. Rarely is there one specific activity to blame. Maybe BOTH the driver and the pedestrian were on phones?

    As both a cyclist and driver I have observed pedestrians with headphones on, step out onto the street without a shoulder check – MANY times. I have been so close to hitting them. I see cyclists riding on very busy streets with their earplugs in both ears. I see drivers talking on their phone – holding by hand, change lanes, without a signal, and may not even be aware they are doing so.

    Everyone is at fault if not remaining alert. Entitlement will not save you

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      If they were both talking on the phone when the collision occurred how could it be anyone’s fault but the driver for making an unsafe turn while illegally using a phone while driving a motor vehicle? Is it illegal to talk on a cell phone while walking?? I must have missed that memo.

      re: entitlement, of course people should stay alert when they are walking because there are deadly motor vehicles with distracted drivers all around them. But at the end of the day, the driver needs to be accountable for human beings that they run over – they are in the bigger vehicle and the onus should be on them to safely operate those vehicles.

      I have trouble understanding how blame can be placed on the deceased woman in this case. She was clearly walking at a marked intersection with the right-of-way over motor vehicles. There is no evidence to suggest she stepped into traffic in a place where she shouldn’t have been walking. And so what if she had headphones on? Headphones don’t change the fact that the driver made an unsafe turn and ran over the woman.

      This is exactly the backwards thinking that I am referring to in this post…

      • messenger666

        “Is it illegal to talk on a cell phone while walking??” – Not illegal, but at times STUPID and may cost you your life if it means you are unaware of what is going on around you.

        A distracted Driver and a distracted Pedestrian is a deadly combo, and one the ped/or cyclist is not going to win. Blame/charge the driver and by all means, teach and enforce the law – but at the cost of a life? I never cross a road even at a designated crosswalk or walk sign unless I make eye contact with the driver coming at me. NEVER. I never assume they see me. Yes they will be wrong if they hit me, but what will I care. I will be injured or DEAD. Sorry .. as a pedestrian I would rather the driver be wrong but me alive!!!! I watch every driver as if they were out to get me. This is what keeps me alive.

        • Don’t blame the victim

          So if a woman is wearing a short skirt and gets raped, it’s her fault, right? I mean, there are violent guys out there, and while it’s not illegal to wear a skirt, it’s STUPID and may cost you your life.

          We should no more make excuses for drivers who can’t control their behavior behind the wheel than we would make excuses for men who can’t control their violent impulses toward women.

          • messenger666

            So a pedestrian talking on a phone walks into a newspaper box/sign post/sandwich board/stroller/bicycle/other person and falls into the road and gets run over.. it is still the drivers fault?

          • Don’t blame the victim

            Of course not. But that’s obviously not what happened here. The woman had the right of way. The truck driver ran her over.

          • messenger666

            My point is, it is not about right and wrong, you don’t care about this when you are dead. It is about saving your life. I always take a defensive attitude. I assume the car driver does NOT see me, and proceed accordingly.

            If more pedestrians did this, they would be safer. YES the drivers are distracted and more often than not in the wrong.. but this is NOT going to change in the short run and in my LONG life I have seen it get worse. There are more cars than ever on the road, there are more distracted drivers … that too is not going to change. The best offense is a good defense.

            “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

          • Don’t blame the victim

            There’s a difference between telling people “use common sense,” and “if you die as a result of a driver’s negligence, it’s your own fault.”

            Plenty of pedestrians are killed when they have the right of way. Heck, plenty of pedestrians are killed when cars crash onto sidewalks. What kind of defense works against that?

          • messenger666

            NEVER have I said it is the fault of the victim. BUT there are steps one can take to reduce the chances of becoming one.

            Accidents happen and will always happen. You cannot predict or prevent all accidents.

            Nothing is ever one sided.

            Having the ‘right of way’ does not mean you are not going to get hit. And is little comfort AFTER you are.

            Assume all drivers are going to hit you and act appropriately.

          • http://profiles.google.com/artscanner Bruce MacLean

            So if you get shot in a shopping mall in Toronto, is it your fault because you weren’t wearing a bulletproof vest?

          • messenger666

            now it is getting STUPID.

            if you are there and see a gun get the hell outta dodge

          • Karen

            Messenger666, I think you’re getting beat up here. I agree w/ your point of view. I can only control my choices whether I bike, walk or drive. I was taught to drive defensively and for that reason I bike and walk following the same rules. I’ve been distracted and had near-misses in all three roles and some of the time I was the problem. I definitely think drivers have a greater responsibility to be aware of what is happening around them and avoid distractions since they have the potential to cause the most harm. I also think more should be done in terms of forcing drivers to slow down via traffic calming devices since even traveling at the speed limit is considered too slow by many.

          • Tallycyclist

            In your example, sure the pedestrian should have been more careful and maybe the driver should be cleared of fault. But that’s usually not the case where pedestrians are run over while crossing in the crosswalk. A lot of the times the driver was distracted and/or was not keeping full alert and/or failed to yield.

            I sometimes put in earphones when walking. Unless I’m staring down at my MP3 to change songs, I’m not distracted; for that reason I never do this while walking into the street. But I’ll bet you that if, hypothetically, I get hit by a turning car while in the crosswalk, the fact that I had earphones one would automatically become the focus and quite possibly, shift all the blame onto me with a nod of the head from most readers about the accident.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          Well, I can say that I agree with you that it’s good for people to pay attention and be cautious when crossing the street – and I can assure you I always do pay attention.

          But to call a deceased person stupid and blame their own death on them because they were having a conversation with a friend while walking or talking on the phone is ludicrous and it only reinforces the belief that drivers have a right to drive unimpeded and not be held accountable for their actions.

    • Jesse Greene

      The driver creates the danger. The driver should be responsible for the danger they create. Period.

      That, of course, is not the law. But it’s the moral thing to do. We should all take responsibility for the danger that impose on others. Anything less than that is just an excuse to sacrifice other people’s safety for your own convenience. In other words, it’s immoral.

      If you see people with headphones on the sidewalk, then slow down and be careful. If you don’t like that, then please don’t drive in my city.

  • messenger666

    First let me say I speak as a pedestrian, cyclist AND car driver.

    At all times no matter whether walking, cycling or driving we must be aware of our surroundings. Rarely is there one specific activity to blame. Maybe BOTH the driver and the pedestrian were on phones?

    As both a cyclist and driver I have observed pedestrians with headphones on, step out onto the street without a shoulder check – MANY times. I have been so close to hitting them. I see cyclists riding on very busy streets with their earplugs in both ears. I see drivers talking on their phone – holding by hand, change lanes, without a signal, and may not even be aware they are doing so.

    Everyone is at fault if not remaining alert. Entitlement will not save you

  • J

    I’m glad this issue is being addressed more and more. As a society, we seem to forget that the automobile is the bull in the china shop, to borrow an expression from Copenhagenize. He writes a great essay about this very issue:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/7995989@N03/ J

    I’m glad this issue is being addressed more and more. As a society, we seem to forget that the automobile is the bull in the china shop, to borrow an expression from Copenhagenize. He writes a great essay about this very issue:

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

  • Inesalag

    James Schwartz: would you like me to translate to spanish your articles? For free. I would love that more people would read what you have to say. :D

    • Conbici

      Lots of people would benefit from your translations :-) Conbici, Spain.

  • Inesalag

    James Schwartz: would you like me to translate to spanish your articles? For free. I would love that more people would read what you have to say. :D

  • http://twitter.com/uberfahr überfahr

    So true: we seem to be in denial about the fundamental, statistically verifiable realities and dangers (human toll) of driving motorized vehicles. This may simply be because most of us drive cars and other motorized vehicles and are aware — in the deep recesses of our mind — of how easy it is to injure or kill someone while driving even down the block at ‘relatively’ slow speeds. We are simply not equipped biologically (our brain is not wired) to scan competing motorized traffic AND things smaller than typical motor vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.) — including people, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

    The real solution is as you suggest: we need a realignment in our motor-driving expectations based on laws that get us to accept the consequences of driving over the speed limit and that generally get us to slow down. We also need to take responsibility for the privilege – not the right, but the privilege of driving.

    Maybe then people driving cars won’t feel so compelled to ‘keep up with traffic’ and the ‘train effect’ of right- and left-turning motorized vehicles (primarily cars and trucks) won’t create a sense of ‘traffic social pressures’ to start acting irrationally and recklessly regarding our fellow humans without the protection of a steel encasement.

    Thank you for this tough article. I read it to my 11-year old today and we talked about it.

  • http://twitter.com/uberfahr überfahr

    So true: we seem to be in denial about the fundamental, statistically verifiable realities and dangers (human toll) of driving motorized vehicles. This may simply be because most of us drive cars and other motorized vehicles and are aware — in the deep recesses of our mind — of how easy it is to injure or kill someone while driving even down the block at ‘relatively’ slow speeds. We are simply not equipped biologically (our brain is not wired) to scan competing motorized traffic AND things smaller than typical motor vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.) — including people, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

    The real solution is as you suggest: we need a realignment in our motor-driving expectations based on laws that get us to accept the consequences of driving over the speed limit and that generally get us to slow down. We also need to take responsibility for the privilege – not the right, but the privilege of driving.

    Maybe then people driving cars won’t feel so compelled to ‘keep up with traffic’ and the ‘train effect’ of right- and left-turning motorized vehicles (primarily cars and trucks) won’t create a sense of ‘traffic social pressures’ to start acting irrationally and recklessly regarding our fellow humans without the protection of a steel encasement.

    Thank you for this tough article. I read it to my 11-year old today and we talked about it.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    If they were both talking on the phone when the collision occurred how could it be anyone’s fault but the driver for making an unsafe turn while illegally using a phone while driving a motor vehicle? Is it illegal to talk on a cell phone while walking?? I must have missed that memo.

    re: entitlement, of course people should stay alert when they are walking because there are deadly motor vehicles with distracted drivers all around them. But at the end of the day, the driver needs to be accountable for human beings that they run over – they are in the bigger vehicle and the onus should be on them to safely operate those vehicles.

    I have trouble understanding how blame can be placed on the deceased woman in this case. She was clearly walking at a marked intersection with the right-of-way over motor vehicles. There is no evidence to suggest she stepped into traffic in a place where she shouldn’t have been walking. And so what if she had headphones on? Headphones don’t change the fact that the driver made an unsafe turn and ran over the woman.

    This is exactly the backwards thinking that I am referring to in this post…

  • messenger666

    “Is it illegal to talk on a cell phone while walking??” – Not illegal, but STUPID and may cost you your life if it means you are unaware of what is going on around you.

    A distracted Driver and a distracted Pedestrian is a deadly combo. Blame/charge the driver and by all means, teach and enforce the law – but at the cost of a life? I never cross a road even at a designated crosswalk or walk sign unless I make eye contact with the driver coming at me. NEVER. I never assume they see me. Yes they will be wrong if they hit me, but what will I care. I will be injured or DEAD. Sorry .. as a pedestrian I would rather the driver be wrong but me alive!!!! I watch every driver as if they were out to get me. This is what keeps me alive.

  • Don’t blame the victim

    So if a woman is wearing a short skirt and gets raped, it’s her fault, right? I mean, there are violent guys out there, and while it’s not illegal to wear a skirt, it’s STUPID and may cost you your life.

    We should no more make excuses for drivers who can’t control their behavior behind the wheel than we would make excuses for men who can’t control their violent impulses toward women.

  • messenger666

    So a pedestrian talking on a phone walks into a newspaper box/sign post/sandwich board/stroller/bicycle/other person and falls into the road and gets run over.. it is still the drivers fault?

  • Don’t blame the victim

    Of course not. But that’s obviously not what happened here. The woman had the right of way. The truck driver ran her over.

  • Tallycyclist

    In your example, sure the pedestrian should have been more careful and maybe the driver should be cleared of fault. But that’s usually not the case where pedestrians are run over while crossing in the crosswalk. A lot of the times the driver was distracted and/or was not keeping full alert and/or failed to yield.

    I sometimes put in earphones when walking. Unless I’m staring down at my MP3 to change songs, I’m not distracted; for that reason I never do this while walking into the street. But I’ll bet you that if, hypothetically, I get hit by a turning car while in the crosswalk, the fact that I had earphones one would automatically become the focus and quite possibly, shift all the blame onto me with a nod of the head from most readers about the accident.

  • messenger666

    My point is, it is not about right and wrong. It is about saving your life. I always take a defensive attitude. I assume the car driver does NOT see me, and proceed accordingly.

    If more pedestrians did this, they would be safer. YES the drivers are distracted and more often than not in the wrong.. but this is NOT going to change in the short run and in my LONG life I have seen it get worse. There are more cars than ever on the road, there are more distracted drivers … that too is not going to change. The best offense is a good defense.

    “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”

  • Jesse Greene

    The driver creates the danger. The driver should be responsible for the danger they create. Period.

    That, of course, is not the law. But it’s the moral thing to do. We should all take responsibility for the danger that impose on others. Anything less than that is just an excuse to sacrifice other people’s safety for your own convenience. In other words, it’s immoral.

    If you see people with headphones on the sidewalk, then slow down and be careful. If you don’t like that, then please don’t drive in my city.

  • Don’t blame the victim

    There’s a difference between telling people “use common sense,” and “if you die as a result of a driver’s negligence, it’s your own fault.”

    Plenty of pedestrians are killed when they have the right of way. Heck, plenty of pedestrians are killed when cars crash onto sidewalks. What kind of defense works against that?

  • messenger666

    NEVER have I said it is the fault of the victim. BUT there are steps one can take to reduce the chances of becoming one.

    Accidents happen and will always happen. You cannot predict or prevent all accident.

    Nothing is ever one sided.

    Having the ‘right of way’ does not mean you are not going to get hit. And is little comfort AFTER you are.

    Assume all drivers are going to hit you and act appropriately.

  • http://profiles.google.com/artscanner Bruce MacLean

    So if you get shot in a shopping mall in Toronto, is it your fault because you weren’t wearing a bulletproof vest?

  • messenger666

    now it is getting STUPID.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    I agree that we view motor vehicle injuries and deaths the wrong way in our society, but I don’t think that assigning more blame to motorists gets us any closer to a solution, and it also puts people on the defensive. (As you rightly are when the victim is blamed.)

    The bottom line is that operating a motor vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity.

    I’d be willing to bet that the truck driver feels absolutely awful about what happened. Look at it from his side. He’s doing his job and potentially made a mistake, or something else happened outside his control (I don’t know the details). As a result, a person died.

    The vast majority of days, any given motorist does not cause someone to die. The way we are taught to drive, the way we are encouraged to drive, the way we see others driving – if we drive this way, most of us will never kill anyone. So when it happens, it’s natural to treat that occurrence as an exception, but in fact it’s a predictable outcome to the behaviour of operating a motor vehicle. Sooner or later, someone will die, regardless of how careful we all are behind the wheel.

    Just as it’s not right to point fingers at the victim, the solution is not to socially chastise the motorist but to reduce collisions and their damage. One key way to accomplish this goal is to use motor vehicles less.

    • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

      I am not interested in the specific case, because I am not on a jury, and because you do not build good law or societal outcomes on anecdotes, but you can on data. Criminal and civil penalties for negligent or dangerous driving are far higher in countries that have outcomes of far greater safety in traffic. You can deny whatever you want, or you can do a little research on Northern Europe and Japan.

      • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

        Can you share some of this research on Northern Europe and Japan, with respect to the effect of criminal and civil penalties on traffic safety? I’d be particularly interested to see how the causal relationship is established.

        Thanks

      • Dragan Jovanović

        I am not sure in that. England could be contra-example. Few people die on England’s streets (as few as in Netherlands and Scandinavia). But – as far as I know – they don’t bother reckless drivers much. Instead, they keep unarmored people away from streets. That’s another way to achieve safety.
        Hembrow writes about it here : http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/05/worlds-safest-roads.html

    • Dragan Jovanović

      “The vast majority of days, any given motorist does not cause someone to die. The way we are taught to drive, the way we are encouraged to drive, the way we see others driving – if we drive this way, most of us will never kill anyone. ”
      Yes, and that’s just because pedestrians and cyclists are aware of whom they are dealing with, and when motorist drives into someones path, probably that someone will take care and get away.
      And when someone stops at beginning of zebra to let you drive first, that exactly means that you tried your best to maim a person, but you just did not succeed. So, a murder like this IS an exception, but NOT in driver’s behavior.

      • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

        “So, a murder like this IS an exception, but NOT in driver’s behavior.”

        I’m not sure I agree 100%. Yes, there are a lot of close calls that don’t result in fatalities but there are also many more interactions between motorists and cyclists/pedestrians that were never likely to result in fatalities. (I admit that I don’t have data to back this up, but just what I see from my bike and on my feet every day.)

        But I think we are not that far apart: motorists do dangerous things and usually they don’t result in fatalities. I think we’d both agree that it would be good for everyone’s safety if there were more cycling infrastructure and more cyclists on the roads.

        I just think that chastising motorists gets them on the defensive and less likely to work with us.

        • Dragan Jovanović

          ” but there are also many more interactions between motorists and cyclists/pedestrians that were never likely to result in fatalities”
          And so what ? Do you know that guy Andreas Breivik ? I am sure most of the days in his life he did not execute anyone. But that’s just irrelevant.

          “I just think that chastising motorists gets them on the defensive and less likely to work with us.”
          That’s the other thing. When we talk about politics, yes, we can say – they have force and rule the world, so we have to be very diplomatic if we want to make some change (and that’s exactly what I do in my town). But that just does not change the facts. And that definitely does not mean we should feel empathy for poor truck driver who got used to walkers getting out of his way no matter traffic priority, and now is in a problem.

          • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

            Fair enough. I do see merit in having empathy for the truck driver, but I understand that you don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    I agree that we view motor vehicle injuries and deaths the wrong way in our society, but I don’t think that assigning more blame to motorists gets us any closer to a solution, and it also puts people on the defensive. (As you rightly are when the victim is blamed.)

    The bottom line is that operating a motor vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity.

    I’d be willing to bet that the truck driver feels absolutely awful about what happened. Look at it from his side. He’s doing his job and potentially made a mistake, or something else happened outside his control (I don’t know the details). As a result, a person died.

    The vast majority of days, any given motorist does not cause someone to die. The way we are taught to drive, the way we are encouraged to drive, the way we see others driving – if we drive this way, most of us will never kill anyone. So when it happens, it’s natural to treat that occurrence as an exception, but in fact it’s a predictable outcome to the behaviour of operating a motor vehicle. Sooner or later, someone will die, regardless of how careful we all are behind the wheel.

    Just as it’s not right to point fingers at the victim, the solution is not to socially chastise the motorist but to reduce collisions and their damage. One key way to accomplish this goal is to use motor vehicles less.

  • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

    I’ve posted on your excellent blog before, and I know I am a broken record, but here in Tokyo the traffic fatality rate is one-quarter what it is in Toronto per capita.* Worth noting that your average Toronto driver could never manage the traffic conditions here: narrower streets, more traffic, pedestrians on the road as only major streets have sidewalks, and a far far higher percentage of cyclists in the mix. If it were Toronto drivers in Tokyo, I’d say that Tokyo would not just suddenly have four times, but ten times, the fatalities. There’s a longer answer, but this is the short one: Tokyo drivers aren’t dicks.

    *I lived in Toronto for decades.

    • Kevin Giant

      I’ve been in Tokyo also. The big difference there is that the police enforce the laws against dangerous, violent criminal drivers.

      In Toronto, what happens then a car driver commits an act of Dangerous Driving (punishable by up to five years in jail) right in front of a police officer?

      Answer: Unless the car driver actually kills or injures someone, what happens in Toronto is usually nothing and at most a meaningless HTA charge with trivial consequences.

      Even when police do lay charges, conviction is difficult even when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.

      Even when these dangerous, violent criminals are convicted, the courts impose sentences that are a joke.

      The exact same driving behaviour in Tokyo would result in the Tokyo police swiftly arresting the violent dangerous criminal and the Tokyo courts imposing a real sentence.

      Car drivers in Tokyo know this, so they don’t drive dangerously.

      Car drivers in Toronto know they can get away with driving dangerously, so they do.

      That is the real reason why Tokyo streets are so much safer than Toronto streets.

      • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

        I disagree. If harsh jail sentences reduced criminal activities, the USA wouldn’t have such a high crime rate.

        If Tokyo streets are safer than Toronto streets, it’s because they accommodate human beings (not motor vehicles) better.

        • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

          ‘Bike Route’, there is a significant difference between your comments and mine and ‘Kevin Grant’s’: we know what we are talking about. We have lived in Japan and Canada, and we know about the legal consequences, or lack of them, in each country. Don’t ever go to Japan, though. Japanese do not humour the Western tendency to confuse baseless opinion with fact as much as Anglophones do.

          • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

            If you are going to throw around ad hominem fallacies like that, you may want to change your nickname.

    • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

      I challenge your claim that Toronto drivers couldn’t manage Tokyo’s traffic conditions. It would take some adaptation, sure, but they could manage it as well as Japanese drivers. Why wouldn’t they be able to? After all, we’re talking about human beings in both cases.

      The way you’ve described Tokyo’s streets, I’m not surprised that they have fewer fatalities. If there are narrower streets, more traffic, pedestrians on the road, and many more cyclists, then I would bet big dollars that average speeds are lower, which intrinsically lowers the fatality rate. As well, if motorists are used to seeing pedestrians and cyclists on the road, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for them.

      Seriously, it’s the way we’ve engineered our streets and roads in North America that’s killing us. It’s not that we’re dicks.

  • Kevin Giant

    For what other victim of violence do we read of the perpetrator something like:

    “He already has to live the rest of his life knowing that a 30-year-old woman died under his wheels. ”

    I don’t remember reading people writing things like “The armed robber has to live the rest of his life knowing how he tramautized the bank teller.”

    Or,

    “The rapist has to live the rest of his life knowing how he harmed the woman he sexually assaulted.”

    • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

      Raping and robbing imply intent. As far as we can tell in this case, there was no intent to kill/maim this lady. So the driver will have to live with the thought that his negligent actions caused a person to lose her life. It is NOT the same thing as what you’re saying.

      PS Yes, I know I’m feeding a troll.

      • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

        “I know I’m feeding a troll.” How? Because you disagree?

        I think that we misunderstand the level of intent involved in negligence: negligence does require volition, which is why you can be considered responsible for it.

    • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

      Here’s my take on this phenomenon:

      It’s much easier to categorize people as “good” or “bad” than it is to look at the nuances and circumstances that led to people performing “good” or “bad” actions.

      As a result, we categorize armed robbers and rapists as “bad people” (as opposed to condemning the action) and therefore assume they are incapable of remorse.

      In contrast, it’s difficult to categorize the motorist as a “bad person” purely based on the collision because most people can put themselves in the motorist’s shoes, which means that they risk being categorized as a “bad person” down the line. So they choose a categorization of “good person who made a mistake/had bad luck/whatever,” allowing them to keep seeing themselves as a “good person,” even if one day they are involved in a motor vehicle collision.

      All human beings use shortcuts (a.k.a. heuristics) like this one, which effectively divides the world into “us/good people” and “them/bad people”.

  • Karen

    Messenger666, I think you’re getting beat up here. I agree w/ your point of view. I can only control my choices whether I bike, walk or drive. I was taught to drive defensively and for that reason I bike and walk following the same rules. I’ve been distracted and had near-misses in all three roles and some of the time I was the problem. I definitely think drivers have a greater responsibility to be aware of what is happening around them and avoid distractions since they have the potential to cause the most harm. I also think more should be done in terms of forcing drivers to slow down via traffic calming devices since even traveling at the speed limit is considered too slow by many.

  • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

    I’ve posted on your excellent blog before, and I know I am a broken record, but here in Tokyo the traffic fatality rate is one-quarter what it is in Toronto per capita.* Worth noting that your average Toronto driver could never manage the traffic conditions here: narrower streets, more traffic, pedestrians on the road as only major streets have sidewalks, and a far far higher percentage of cyclists in the mix. If it were Toronto drivers in Tokyo, I’d say that Tokyo would not just suddenly have four times, but ten times, the fatalities. There’s a longer answer, but this is the short one: Tokyo drivers aren’t dicks.

    *I lived in Toronto for decades.

  • Conbici

    Lots of people would benefit from your translations :-) Conbici, Spain.

  • Kevin Giant

    For what other victim of violence do we read of the perpetrator something like:

    “He already has to live the rest of his life knowing that a 30-year-old woman died under his wheels. “

    I don’t remember reading people writing things like “The armed robber has to live the rest of his life knowing how he tramautized the bank teller.”

    Or,

    “The rapist has to live the rest of his life knowing how he harmed the woman he sexually assaulted.”

  • Kevin Giant

    I’ve been in Tokyo also. The big difference there is that the police enforce the laws against dangerous, violent criminal drivers.

    In Toronto, what happens then a car driver commits an act of Dangerous Driving (punishable by up to five years in jail) right in front of a police officer?

    Answer: Unless the car driver actually kills or injures someone, what happens in Toronto is usually nothing and at most a meaningless HTA charge with trivial consequences.

    Even when police do lay charges, conviction is difficult even when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming.

    Even when these dangerous, violent criminals are convicted, the courts impose sentences that are a joke.

    The exact same driving behaviour in Tokyo would result in the Tokyo police swiftly arresting the violent dangerous criminal and the Tokyo courts imposing a real sentence.

    Car drivers in Tokyo know this, so they don’t drive dangerously.

    Car drivers in Toronto know they can get away with driving dangerously, so they do.

    That is the real reason why Tokyo streets are so much safer than Toronto streets.

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    Raping and robbing imply intent. As far as we can tell in this case, there was no intent to kill/maim this lady. So the driver will have to live with the thought that his negligent actions caused a person to lose her life. It is NOT the same thing as what you’re saying.

    PS Yes, I know I’m feeding a troll.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    I challenge your claim that Toronto drivers couldn’t manage Tokyo’s traffic conditions. It would take some adaptation, sure, but they could manage it as well as Japanese drivers. Why wouldn’t they be able to? After all, we’re talking about human beings in both cases.

    The way you’ve described Tokyo’s streets, I’m not surprised that they have fewer fatalities. If there are narrower streets, more traffic, pedestrians on the road, and many more cyclists, then I would bet big dollars that average speeds are lower, which intrinsically lowers the fatality rate. As well, if motorists are used to seeing pedestrians and cyclists on the road, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for them.

    Seriously, it’s the way we’ve engineered our streets and roads in North America that’s killing us. It’s not that we’re dicks.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    I disagree. If harsh jail sentences reduced criminal activities, the USA wouldn’t have such a high crime rate.

    If Tokyo streets are safer than Toronto streets, it’s because they accommodate human beings (not motor vehicles) better.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    Here’s my take on this phenomenon:

    It’s much easier to categorize people as “good” or “bad” than it is to look at the nuances and circumstances that led to people performing “good” or “bad” actions.

    As a result, we categorize armed robbers and rapists as “bad people” (as opposed to condemning the action) and therefore assume they are incapable of remorse.

    In contrast, it’s difficult to categorize the motorist as a “bad person” purely based on the collision because most people can put themselves in the motorist’s shoes, which means that they risk being categorized as a “bad person” down the line. So they choose a categorization of “good person who made a mistake/had bad luck/whatever,” allowing them to keep seeing themselves as a “good person,” even if one day they are involved in a motor vehicle collision.

    All human beings use shortcuts (called heuristics) like this one, which effectively divides the world into “us/good people” and “them/bad people”.

  • http://waterloobikes.ca/ Graham

    Very timely in light of today’s coroner’s report on cycling deaths. Look forward to your thoughts on this piece of common sense written by non-bicycle ridding lawyers.

  • http://waterloobikes.ca/ Graham

    Very timely in light of today’s coroner’s report on cycling deaths. Look forward to your thoughts on this piece of common sense written by non-bicycle ridding lawyers.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Well, I can say that I agree with you that it’s good for people to pay attention and be cautious when crossing the street – and I can assure you I always do pay attention.

    But to call a deceased person stupid and blame their own death on them because they were having a conversation with a friend while walking or talking on the phone is ludicrous and it only reinforces the belief that drivers have a right to drive unimpeded and not be held accountable for their actions.

  • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

    ‘Bike Route’, there is a significant difference between your comments and mine and ‘Kevin Grant’s’: we know what we are talking about. We have lived in Japan and Canada, and we know about the legal consequences, or lack of them, in each country. Don’t ever go to Japan, though. Japanese do not humour the Western tendency to confuse baseless opinion with fact as much as Anglophones do.

  • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

    “I know I’m feeding a troll.” How? Because you disagree?

    I think that we misunderstand the level of intent involved in negligence: negligence does require volition, which is why you can be considered responsible for it.

  • http://hatesatourist.blogspot.com/ Antisthenes

    I am not interested in the specific case, because I am not on a jury, and because you do not build good law or societal outcomes on anecdotes, but you can on data. Criminal and civil penalties for negligent or dangerous driving are far higher in countries that have outcomes of far greater safety in traffic. You can deny whatever you want, or you can do a little research on Northern Europe and Japan.

  • Dragan Jovanović

    “The vast majority of days, any given motorist does not cause someone to die. The way we are taught to drive, the way we are encouraged to drive, the way we see others driving – if we drive this way, most of us will never kill anyone. “
    Yes, and that’s just because pedestrians and cyclists are aware of whom they are dealing with, and when motorist drives into someones path, probably that someone will take care and get away.
    And when someone stops at beginning of zebra to let you drive first, that exactly means that you tried your best to maim a person, but you just did not succeed. So, a murder like this IS an exception, but NOT in driver’s behavior.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    If you are going to throw around ad hominem fallacies like that, you may want to change your nickname.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    “So, a murder like this IS an exception, but NOT in driver’s behavior.”

    I’m not sure I agree 100%. Yes, there are a lot of close calls that don’t result in fatalities but there are also many more interactions between motorists and cyclists/pedestrians that were never likely to result in fatalities. (I admit that I don’t have data to back this up, but just what I see from my bike and on my feet every day.)

    But I think we are not that far apart: motorists do dangerous things and usually they don’t result in fatalities. I think we’d both agree that it would be good for everyone’s safety if there were more cycling infrastructure and more cyclists on the roads.

    I just think that chastising motorists gets them on the defensive and less likely to work with us.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    Can you share some of this research on Northern Europe and Japan, with respect to the effect of criminal and civil penalties on traffic safety? I’d be particularly interested to see how the causal relationship is established.

    Thanks

  • Dragan Jovanović

    ” but there are also many more interactions between motorists and cyclists/pedestrians that were never likely to result in fatalities”
    And so what ? Do you know that guy Andreas Breivik ? I am sure most of the days in his life he did not execute anyone. But that’s just irrelevant.

    “I just think that chastising motorists gets them on the defensive and less likely to work with us.”
    That’s the other thing. When we talk about politics, yes, we can say – they have force and rule the world, so we have to be very diplomatic if we want to make some change (and that’s exactly what I do in my town). But that just does not change the facts. And that definitely does not mean we should feel empathy for poor truck driver who got used to walkers getting out of his way no matter traffic priority, and now is in a problem.

  • Dragan Jovanović

    I am not sure in that. England could be contra-example. Few people die on England’s streets (as few as in Netherlands and Scandinavia). But – as far as I know – they don’t bother reckless drivers much. Instead, they keep unarmored people away from roads. That’s another way to achieve safety.

  • http://twitter.com/BikeRouteCa The Bike Route

    Fair enough. I do see merit in having empathy for the truck driver, but I understand that you don’t.

  • 3M respirators

    Knowledge is very important, but we also to take visitors soothing actions, and at the very least these types of pickups should be required to be prepared with side security.

  • 3M respirators

    Knowledge is very important, but we also to take visitors soothing actions, and at the very least these types of pickups should be required to be prepared with side security.

  • 3M respirators

    This perspective shows a amazing advertising success obtained by the automobile entrance hall in the first two years of the last millennium – when community was somehow convinced to handover wide places of community area to automobile motorists. It is time for a counter-offensive and a lighter submission of the area we all own.

  • 3M respirators

    This perspective shows a amazing advertising success obtained by the automobile entrance hall in the first two years of the last millennium – when community was somehow convinced to handover wide places of community area to automobile motorists. It is time for a counter-offensive and a lighter submission of the area we all own.