Blaming the Victims

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Photo by booledozer

On Wednesday a serious crash on Lake Shore Blvd. W. left 10 people injured. Six of the people injured were hit after two cars collided and one jumped the curb. One elderly person is in serious condition.

Today, the Toronto Star published an article by Andrew Livingstone about the crash and road safety. Incomprehensibly the article focuses on the behaviour of how people cross Toronto’s streets:

“How pedestrians interpret the newer countdown-type pedestrian signals is becoming a major concern for police, said Const. Hugh Smith of traffic services. Many don’t really understand what the timer means.”

Why are the victims, who may or may not “understand what the timer means,” being blamed? The people injured in this accident were not even crossing the street, but standing on the curb.  The person driving westbound made an insane left hand turn from the middle or right lane and got hit by the person driving in the left lane. Yet, for some reason two-thirds of the article focuses on the pedestrian signals.

This article makes it seem as if those six people standing on the corner waiting to cross the street are somehow at fault. For example, there are great tips on how people who are walking should behave:

Using the traffic lights properly to cross, and avoiding crossing in mid-block or walking between cars can improve safety for both drivers and pedestrians.

I’m not sure how those tips would have helped any of those six victims. Do you?  Meanwhile excuses are made for drivers hitting people walking in the area:

“People are coming out in the blind areas and the drivers think there is no pedestrian there, they’re starting manoeuvres,” he said. “The amount of construction … it disrupts driver’s sightlines and they have to pay more attention to the traffic signals and be more aware of what’s going on.”

What gives?

Let’s be clear, this accident had nothing to do with what the people standing on the street or sidewalks were doing or poor driver sightlines. The victims of this accident, travelling in the cars and standing on the sidewalk, are innocent bystanders injured by one person’s reckless, irresponsible, and criminal behaviour.

If Andrew Livingstone wants to raise questions about how drivers and pedestrians navigate major downtown arteries this is the wrong way and wrong place to do it. If anything, this accident highlights how dangerous it is to have a high-speed arterial road in the middle of a neighbourhood with thousands of residents, jobs, and tourists.

If you want to cut the severity and number of accidents in urban areas the most effective way to do it is to cut the speed and number of cars. The recent review on pedestrian fatalities in Ontario by the Chief Corner  is pretty clear on this fact. The study found that 75% of pedestrian fatalities occurred on wide roads, with four or more lanes and that pedestrians hit in areas where the posted speed limit was more than 50 km/hour accounted 95% of the total of pedestrian deaths. The major traffic safety issue in this city is not  countdown signals, it’s the design of our streets. Let’s stop blaming the victims and start discussing constructive ways to improve our streets.

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4 thoughts on “Blaming the Victims

  1. I read that Star article and it made no sense to me – the crazy segue from describing the terrible driving, over to something to do with countdown timers.

    I assumed it was just me not understanding how the accident happened. Thanks for clarifying that it was the Police going off-topic to crap on pedestrians for getting hit by runaway cars.

  2. I agree 100%, as you probably saw in my tweet. Every time I cross any intersection on the Lakeshore under the Gardiner I am extremely cautious, waiting on each light, double-checking all directions, before I step, and so-on, but I never shake the fear that I’m moments away from being killed. Drivers under there are often operating with a highway mentality and many don’t seem aware that Lakeshore is not a controlled-access freeway but rather a regular road with pedestrians and crosswalks.

    Blaming the victims in this particular case is outrageous, and I see it again and again in articles about traffic problems. Yes, some pedestrians do stupid things, but even then they usually endanger only themselves. When a car driver does something careless, he or she endangers many others: to me, the onus on safety remains on the person operating tons of metal and glass. Yet it seems like the drivers almost always get the benefit of the doubt.

    When I see this “blame the pedestrian” mentality I feel like it only encourages drivers that it’s okay to drive selfishly. Just because someone once jaywalked in front of you while you were driving doesn’t give justification to drive dangerously and treat all pedestrians as inconvenient animated obstacles into perpetuity.

    (By the way, just a heads-up on a couple typos I noticed: where you say “by-standards injured by one persons…” I think you probably meant “bystanders injured by one person’s…”)

  3. Pingback: Amalgamated | Amalgamated’s Top Posts of 2013

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