Not long ago, I was walking to work at 7 in the morning when a speeding van cut me off and the roofer in the passenger seat gave me the finger. I know he was a roofer because he was in a company vehicle, which made it easy for me to email his boss and complain. I got an apology, and they, apparently, got a talking-to.
Traffic in Toronto is a mess, and the result is a lot of road rage and road fear. Those lowest on the transportation chain are in the defensive position: The most recent City of Toronto numbers showed that more than 67 per cent of pedestrians hit have the right of way.
So far in 2018, The Globe counts 37 pedestrians killed on Toronto streets, one just Tuesday night on Nov. 20. It’s the highest mid-November count since 2007.
This is why I creep slowly across crosswalks, anticipating they’ll be ignored. I do shoulder checks when crossing even skinny side streets, since most drivers don’t bother with stop signs when turning right. That’s an anecdote, but it’s also a fact – a University of Toronto study from August found that 53 per cent of right-turning drivers here don’t check for pedestrians and cyclists.
Attempts to reduce deaths and accidents have so far been unimpressive, so I’ve resorted to tattletaling because I’m scared. If ticket blitzes, red-light cameras and children’s deaths aren’t enough to get drivers to be more careful, perhaps shaming is the route to accountability.
Technology makes this easy – google roofing company, hit send on email. Phone pictures of rude parking jobs can be posted to neighbourhood Facebook groups and the truly dedicated can go even further. Take, for example, Markus Javor and Adam Biesenthal, two friends who were both freaked out by what they saw on their daily commutes.
“We were crossing large areas, different municipalities, and it was like the Wild West,” said Mr. Biesenthal, who at that time lived downtown and worked in Durham. His longtime friend Mr. Javor was equally horrified on his trips between Scarborough and Brampton.
The men both had dashboard cameras, and realized they were already capturing daily driving sins. Since 2015 they’ve hosted their videos on a Facebook page and YouTube channel: They say the goal isn’t an audience, but to nudge people to drive differently once they realize their dangerous behaviour is being seen.
“People slow down when they see a police car, but with video, everyone’s kind of a police officer,” said Mr. Javor. So far, no shamed drivers have responded to their posts. A few people have expressed privacy concerns, which he thinks is unrealistic to expect in public.
On occasion, the duo has submitted police reports, but the eventual results can be frustrating. Making the submission itself isn’t hard, since last year the Toronto Police Service opened an online portal for driving complaints. So far this year, 3,651 individual drivers and 838 neighbourhood problem spots have been reported.
On just one day last week, I reported two drivers for ignoring stop signs, one for running a red light and another for blasting past open streetcar doors. It’s a test of visual recall and memorization skills, as a license plate and driver description are necessary if anything is going to be done.
Even then, the most likely result is a stern letter sent to the car owner, said Sergeant Brett Moore, spokesperson for the TPS traffic division. It’s difficult to absolutely verify who was driving, he said, which is why charges are rare.
“I get a lot of calls from folks where it didn’t end up the way they thought it would. The letter doesn’t seem like a hard enough message,” he said.
Further action is up to individual investigators and can be erratic. Officers from some divisions call to update on report results, while others do not. Mr. Javor was told that a driver racking up letters would receive further attention – perhaps a home visit – but that’s not officially the routine.
One officer was fairly discouraging, telling me that the time he spent calling me meant he wasn’t “on the streets,” catching bad drivers himself. Sgt. Moore assured me that reports are useful, if only to locate problem spots for blitzes.
And maybe the letters trigger a bit of guilt, an uneasy embarrassment at being caught and an internal promise to do better. Shame isn’t the most noble tactic, but it’s one worth trying until this city’s streets are safer.