Accidental Activist

Victim-Blaming Rampant on Deadly Toronto Streets

To be effective, road safety measures must focus on the source of danger: the cars.

By Ben Bull
Published November 04, 2016

Toronto's media has been ably aiding and abetting the local Emergency, Police and insurance spokespeople as they go about their seedy business of victim-blaming during our ongoing pedestrian-vehicle collision epidemic:

"We live on our phones these days and people tend to lose sight of where they are sometimes when they're on their phone," said State Farm spokesperson John Bordignon.

Toronto police say there were 1,165 vehicle-on-pedestrian collisions from January through August. So far 35 pedestrians have been killed this year, compared with 30 at this point last year.

The Star's strategic placement of the injury stats right after the ubiquitous victim-blaming quote is not accidental; it is, unfortunately, typical.

As for the spokesperson - well, an insurance rep can be forgiven for twisting the narrative. Their loyalty is toward their car-driving customers, after all. But the city's safety spokespeople have no such excuse:

Kim McKinnon, a spokesperson for the city's paramedics, said they tend to see an increase in pedestrians being struck in the fall, when days start to get shorter.

"Obviously, there is something about (the day), the weather and the status of the roads and people rushing that is causing these accidents," she said.

Yeah, thanks, Kim.

Fortunately today the Star attempted to even things out in a column:

Be careful out there. Motorists of Toronto, I'm talking to you. Someone needs to, because we drivers are maiming and killing people at a pretty shocking rate.

Columnist Edward Keenan gets the simple cause-and-effect correlation between innocent-or-not pedestrians and the dangerous weapons that hurt them.

So drivers: slow down, watch out, be careful. It's darker than usual this time of year, sometimes it will be raining, sometimes traffic in this city is going to be frustrating. You need to keep your wits about you, and be patient, and sober, and watch carefully. No place you're going is so important that it is worth killing someone trying to get there a few minutes faster.

You're piloting a glass-and-steel missile that weighs thousands of pounds, so use the appropriate amount of care and attention when you do so.

Someone needs to explicitly and clearly deliver this message to us drivers, because God knows the main thrust of most road safety campaigns is scolding pedestrians about self-defense.

Keenan makes a simple point that is somehow hard to comprehend for many people: Cars kill.

He also addresses the issue of blame, as if this should ever be the primary focus of how we make our streets safer:

[I]n more than two-thirds of cases where they are hit, pedestrians have been obeying the law and have the right-of-way. And for another, because pedestrians who are reckless or distracted mainly pose a danger to themselves. If we are concerned about people being hurt, we need to focus our efforts on deterring those who do the hurting.

Exactly. Even if pedestrians were to blame for all their pain, this should not deter us from targeting the real danger out there. After all, we are all capable of hurting ourselves.

I can stab myself with a knife, jump in front of a train or leap off a tall building. Does that mean I should take a knife awareness course, or wear a special bracelet which zaps me every time I approach a speeding vehicle or peer over a balcony?

The emphasis of human safety should always be on the object that delivers the injury. As a fallible human walking around in my own skin, I am mostly harmless - except to myself. You cannot and should not mandate how I approach the many dangers I face out there in the world. But you certainly should protect me from them.

And God knows we need protection. Keenan again:

Between sunset Wednesday and just after sunrise Thursday, for instance, 14 pedestrians were struck by motorists on the streets of our city - that's roughly every hour.


I've done my best to pitch in for pedestrians, writing a letter a month in defence of the defenceless: here, [here (, and here.

The good news is that I am, at last, starting to feel like I'm not alone:

One simple solution is to lower speed limits, which we know drastically reduces the risk of pedestrian fatalities in a collision. Research shows significant reductions in pedestrian death by reducing and enforcing speed limits to 30 km/h in city centres, urban residential areas and rural neighbourhoods with high levels of pedestrian activity.

We've also been hearing from Toronto's pedestrian advocacy group Walk Toronto, which argues that the emphasis on "distracted walking" is a "red herring".

The tide is turning. Toronto has just adopted a Vision Zero [PDF] pedestrian safety campaign and is now embracing Complete Streets to reduce dangerous speeding. The city has hired a new transportation chief, Barbara Gray, who once co-authored a book about how to develop walkable communities.

It's about to get a whole lot safer on our streets. Until then, we should all try to stay safe and prepare to keep taking the blame.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 04, 2016 at 12:08:19

Even the most distracted of adult "distracted walkers" is still an adult and has greater street survival skills than a perfectly normal child. This is where victim-blaming reaches its disgusting worst: in those who attempt to justify terrorizing innocent children off the streets.

As a Canadian Army veteran, I am reminded of what is perhaps the most famous Canadian photograph of the Second World War, Wait for me, Daddy!. In October 1940, this photograph was seen as emblematic of the trauma of families separated by war. The Government of Canada has issued a stamp and a coin based upon the image. The government of British Columbia hung a copy of that photograph in every classroom in that province during the Second World War.

But today? Let's face it: Today that child would be victim-blamed for being crushed and killed by some car driver.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 04, 2016 at 12:22:33

My colleague at McMaster, Michel Grignon, made the straightforward case (in an article cited by Ben) that we have a simple solution to reducing deaths and injuries on our streets: just lower vehicle speeds through changes to traffic rules and road design.

The message is that this is not a conceptually difficult or scientifically challenging problem, like ending poverty. stopping war or curing cancer. We already know what to do. It is a political problem of deciding that quick and convenient motor vehicle passage through our cities doesn't trump every other concern.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-11-04 12:25:11

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