Pedestrians are also responsible for their safety

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Sabrina Almeida

News of pedestrians being seriously injured or killed on GTA roads has become a gruesome daily occurrence. Stats released in September put the number of ‘reported’ incidents in Toronto at 6 every day. But a growing number of instances in Mississauga, Brampton, Whitby and other suburbs show the problem is not limited to Toronto and worsening everywhere.

Who’s to blame? Careless pedestrians, negligent motorists, bad roads or lack of safe infrastructure like crosswalks and traffic lights? In several cases, many have advocated for more pedestrian crossings and increasing the walk time, especially in areas with senior residences and shopping facilities. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the blame game continues. Pedestrians will typically point their fingers at motorists and vice-versa. But the onus is mostly on drivers to exercise utmost caution as they can cause more harm. Statistics also show that they are responsible for more than half the fatalities. Sure, speeding, distracted and impaired driving (add impatience and road rage to this list) play a big role in such situations so local law enforcement must clamp down on it.

Having said that pedestrians (and cyclists) must share responsibility for road safety along with motorists. The outrage against so-called “victim blaming” is taking an unrealistic and unreasonable approach to reducing such incidences and seems to pin all the blame on drivers.

Take for instance the outcry against the suggestion that seniors wear reflective gear, battery-operated arm bands and lights to ensure  they’re visible to motorists at night. Don’t runners and cyclists wear reflective gear? Or police officers and construction workers for that matter! So, what’s wrong with our elderly loved ones doing the same to keep themselves safe?

Friends and Families for Safe Streets spokesperson Jessica Spieker and Toronto Councillor Mike Layton both thought reflective clothing was an unreasonable and impractical suggestion. While Layton said everyone can’t be expected to wear an arm band, Spieker took it a step further suggesting it was an infringement on our “Charter right to freedom of personal expression”. Really! Is the freedom to wear what you want more important than personal safety?

Having stepped on my brakes hard several times to prevent accidents arising out of unsafe street-crossing practices, I object to the automatic assumption that the driver is at fault. It is time pedestrians were also taken to task for their irresponsible behaviour. Far too many of them do not consider potential dangers when they jaywalk, don’t wait for the walk sign at pedestrian crossings or dash across the street to make the light. Crossing when the walk sign is blinking or off is as dangerous as driving through an intersection on a yellow or red light.

Isn’t it common sense that darting out in front of oncoming vehicles, running across the street to flag down local transit or crossing a busy road where there is no crosswalk puts you at risk? Talking or listening to music and podcasts on your cell phone or checking social media while crossing the street is also senseless! Can’t it wait? The adage that the pedestrian has the right of way seems to be misunderstood or misconstrued here.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that reducing such accidents and fatalities requires awareness and mutual cooperation between drivers and pedestrians. I’d be devastated to be involved in an accident with a pedestrian even if it wasn’t my fault.

So, I would like to see more pedestrian blitzes and local law enforcement handing out fines not just warnings to crack down on such unsafe behaviour.

Also, dark coloured winter coats should either be banned or have reflective bands. A combination of dimly lit bus shelters and intersections and dark coats are visual barriers and a driving hazard in fall and winter.

A pedestrian crossing manual for British Columbia made a critical observation with regard to their safety. It said: “Since there is no practical means of communicating with pedestrians, information about traffic flow is generally directed at drivers. Hence, information is directed primarily at the individual with the lower risk of injury. Ideally, information should be communicated to the individual who is at higher risk of injury during a crossing situation – the pedestrian.”

It’s time we acknowledged that pedestrian crossing safety relies on the judgement exercised by both pedestrians and drivers. Not just the person behind the wheel! -CINEWS

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