Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remedial Road Safety 101

There was a particularly horrific incident on King Street in downtown Toronto on Monday night. A young man is dead and a taxi driver has been charged with second-degree murder after he allegedly drove into the victim deliberately. The picture (shown at the top of this post) of the scene is quite disturbing: a partly-broken skateboard leaning on the curb, blood staining the road and curbside next to a storm drain. If the cabbie is found to actually have used his car as a weapon, then I hope there is a very long jail sentence in store, followed by the loss of his license for the rest of his life.

But there is another side to this story that is being lost in the horror of the driver's actions. The man who was killed was riding his skateboard on King Street (that is to say, not on the sidewalk) in a busy part of downtown Toronto (near Jarvis) at the tail end of rush hour. He was 28 years old, meaning presumably "old enough to know better" and what he was doing is absolutely illegal. From the Toronto Municipal Code, 400-14A:
"...where there are sidewalks, no person upon roller skates or a skateboard, or riding in or by means of any coaster, toy vehicle or similar device, shall go upon a roadway except for the purposes of crossing the road..."
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not for a moment saying that if you are doing something incredibly reckless or even illegal that you deserve to be killed. I do not subscribe to the "blame the victim" stance of so many people. I am also not saying that I feel any empathy for the cabbie; no matter what the skateboarder may or may not have done to him or his cab in the moments before the collision, if he actually did deliberately hit this man with his car then there should be no wiggle room. A car is a lethal weapon and the moment you wield it in that way you should be treated as if you pulled a gun on someone and shot them. And I am also not saying that the skateboarder would have been 100% safe on the sidewalk had there been a previous altercation that led to this tragedy.

But at some point one has to take some responsibility for one's own safety and well-being. If you're going to be skateboarding through traffic in the downtown core of your country's biggest city in rush hour (presumably, judging from the head trauma, with no protection of any kind) then sooner or later the odds are going to catch up with you whether there was intention to hurt you or not. This story, while it is still fresh, offers a perfect opportunity for anyone concerned about the number of pedestrians (for that's virtually what this skateboarder was) who are killed by cars in Toronto each year to do some educating. There are some proponents for the idea that we need lower speed limits in the city. While it's possible that this might cut down on the fatalities each year, nobody ever seems to be attacking the number of accidents between pedestrians and cars. It seems to me that this is a perfect time to do exactly that.

I am astounded on a daily basis by the attitude held by so many of this city's pedestrians toward traffic safety. The overwhelmingly pervasive sense of entitlement held by the drivers of Toronto seems to have at some point seeped into the "walkers" as well and it's not a healthy situation. Nearly every time I am behind the wheel of our car, no matter how short the trip, I am confronted with people stepping out into traffic, crossing the street without checking to see if their way is clear (or, worse, checking first and then just ignoring any threats by walking while deliberately looking away from the cars as if they can't be hurt by what they can't see), and just walking down the middle of the road with their back to traffic even when there are fully accessible sidewalks. I see moms and dads taking their young children by the hand and darting across a busy street 20 feet from a crosswalk because the store they are trying to get to is right there. I see people jaywalking when a car comes up unexpectedly but they continue to stroll at the same pace because "surely that driver sees me so it's on him, now" as if they are daring you to hit them. I wish I could say they are all distracted with headphones or too busy texting; that they are all of one demographic or gender or another; but the simple truth is this crosses all spectrums and levels of "consciousness". It's like all sense of urgency has been removed from the brains of the citizens of this city once they put feet on pavement. But here's the thing: no matter what happens, no matter how "right" you might feel you are, if you're dead....all bets are off.

If you're not supposed to be on the road... then get off the road as quickly as possible. It's very easy logic. You - and only you - are ultimately responsible for your own safety once you reach the age where you are walking around independently. If you are killed while you are doing something reckless and stupid then no jail sentence or public shaming or contrition of the person who killed you is going to breathe life back into your body or be of any comfort to your survivors.

Did Ralph Bissonnette deserve to die? Of course not. But once the smoke clears from the shock of this incident, I truly hope someone responsible for our public safety steps forward and says, "You know, while we're on the subject...."


  1. I can't deal with driving in Toronto anymore. I was born there, learned to drive there and lived there for 30-odd years. After I drove back for a visit last June, I swore I would never drive there again. Two motorcyclists doing about 130 kph drove between me and the car next to me on the 401, then cut in front of me and zoomed off again. I called 911.

    Toronto traffic is insane! (Drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, all of it.) Plus I've lost my edge after years of living in places where driving is not a blood sport.

    A very sad story all around... :( People do forget or ignore the fact that a car can be a lethal weapon, and it doesn't take much for that to happen.

    1. You are absolutely right on all counts. The drivers here are terrible. When I was growing up - having been born in Montreal - everyone said the worst drivers were there (in Montreal. That has not been my experience as a driver. They might be a bit crazy there but they are consistent. They even know and obey the rules of the highway, ie passing on the left and then get the heck out of that lane. Not so here. Here in Toronto you never ever have the slightest clue what to expect and that is infinitely more dangerous than just high-speed lunatics.

      But even knowing all of that - even knowing how bad and unpredictable the drivers are in Toronto - pedestrians here still insist on walking with the traffic on the road. I will never understand it. I have more run-ins with pedestrians than other drivers on every trip I take around the city. It's an absolute mess. I imagine so many of them walk on the roads because the sidewalks are full of cyclists, also illegally. It's just a vicious circle of bad behaviour.

      It seem in this case both the skateboarder and the cabbie forgot that the car is a lethal weapon and two lives are ruined, one irreparably. Awful.


I've kept my comments open and moderation-free for many years, but I've been forced to now review them before they post due to the actions of one member of my family. I apologize for having to take this stance, but that's the way the world is headed, sad to say. Thank you for your understanding.

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