Instead of escalating tensions in Toronto’s High Park, we should combat the myths that lead to road fatalities

Anger is rising in our streets and parks, and we are moving into another year of “us versus them.” Why are we pitting police against cyclists, cyclists against pedestrians, and adding unnecessary tension that distracts from the real problem? Road fatalities are simply not occurring in parks; they are happening on our roads at an alarming rate.

As a lawyer representing victims, I have had a disturbing look into road violence. My engineers analyze the scene, and my private investigators obtain video evidence. I examine drivers and I find out if charges are laid.

From my perspective, we’ll never have safe streets unless politicians and the driving public change what is a “car culture” — one based on principles that have little or no foundation. They are created so that we can accept (and digest) the volume of death on our streets. Four ideas prevail:

  • Car accidents happen and generally no one is to blame.
  • Excessive speed is dangerous, but speeding itself is not.
  • A driving license is a right, not a privilege.

None of these are true. We value life, but for some reason if the violence arises from someone behind a wheel, we chalk it up to just another accident.

“Accidents”

There are no accidents; all crashes are preventable. I did a case where a young woman was killed on her bike. It was caught on video, with the driver travelling 15 km over the limit. The reasoning police provided for not laying charges was “these things happen.” That’s not unusual — when I represented various organizations during a review into cycling deaths by the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario, statistics showed that most cyclists killed were at the hands of a driver that broke the law, however few were charged.

Speed kills

During the coroner’s office review into pedestrian deaths, coroner Bert Lauwers stated that “the data is irrefutable” regarding speed kills. A pedestrian hit at 50 kilometres an hour is five times more likely to die than one hit at 30 kilometres an hour. The review called for speed limits of 30 km/h on all residential streets. Lowering limits and introducing speed cameras will reduce injury and prevent deaths. Why is there not a camera on every street?

“Right to a licence”

No one has the right to a driver’s licence, but everyone thinks they do. As the Highway Traffic Act states, “the privilege of driving on a highway is granted to, and retained by, only those persons who demonstrate that they are likely to drive safely.” However, seldom does anyone ever lose their licence. Killing or hurting someone after you have broken a law is proof you are not driving safely.

Three private members bills requested a new law be passed. It simply asked that before a convicted bad driver (one that kills or seriously hurts someone) gets back behind the wheel, at a minimum they must take a driving course. All three times the law was shot down. Revoking a driver’s license simply does not happen, and repeat offenders continue to kill and maim people.

“Streets are for cars”

We keep hearing “streets are for cars.” This is not true under the law. The streets are to be designed, repaired and kept to provide safe travel for all users. The corner’s office recommended that all governments build and maintain our streets for all users, a concept called “complete streets.” Unfortunately, little has been done to implement this.

We and our politicians must move away from a “car culture” and begin to provide protection for all road users. It doesn’t have to be “us versus them” when it comes to how we choose to get around — we all deserve the right to safe passage.

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