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Life can change in the blink of an eye. I experienced it first-hand on an idle Wednesday. The loud crash echoed in my mom’s house. I assumed it was two cars colliding violently. But I was wrong.

I knew instantly what had happened when I opened the door and spotted the walker tossed in the street. I knew the victim, too: An 83-year-old Polish man who lived in the neighbourhood. En route to church, he’d been hit by a white Mazda3 hatchback with two young women inside – I’m guessing barely 20 years old.

I’d often crossed paths with the elderly man while walking my dog. He’d step gingerly toward us with his walker, dressed to the nines, thrilled to see my puppy. Truth be told, I didn’t even know his name. We’d stop and talk – admittedly, language was a barrier, but we’d communicate with smiles and nods. He’d hold out his hand; I’d give him dog treats to feed my pet. Both were thrilled by that simple act.

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Now, in front of me, was the juxtaposition of this sweet old man lying unconscious and bleeding on the street, his prosthetic limb with the perfectly polished black dress shoe flung several feet away.

Chaos, screams, tears filled the street before paramedics, police and the fire crews arrived. He regained consciousness. I told him everything was going to be okay, knowing deep down, he likely wouldn’t survive the night.

The wrecked Mazda3 sat parked nearby for hours – the passenger side windshield dented and smashed. I fought back tears as the two women in the car recounted what happened – they didn’t see him as dusk set in and rain started to fall. He was wearing dark clothes and he wasn’t crossing at the intersection. But speed, perhaps, may have also played a factor – driving too fast for the rain-slicked roads. Or perhaps the driver was distracted by music, cellphones or a conversation with her friend. My heart broke for them, too – so young and their lives changed in an instant. I wondered whether the driver would ever drive again? Or whether the horror of the accident would haunt the pair of them forever.

The man died from his severe injuries a few days later.

Unfortunately, pedestrians are all too often struck and killed by motor vehicles in this country. In Canada, 294 pedestrians were killed by a vehicle in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. And in many major Canadian cities, such as Toronto, collisions with pedestrians are on the rise. Over the past three years, from 2018-2020, 101 pedestrians were killed on Toronto roads; 69 per cent were 55 years or older, according to the Toronto Police Service.

While it’s no surprise, a recent American Automobile Association (AAA) study confirms that young men are usually the most aggressive drivers, engaging in bad behaviour such as speeding, road rage, cutting off other drivers, running red lights and tailgating. But women aren’t far behind, according to the data. In fact, drivers under the age of 39, both female and male, tend to be more aggressive than older drivers. Nearly 30 per cent of young drivers even confessed to manually texting while driving. Unfortunately, young drivers still aren’t getting the message about the dangers of reckless and distracted driving.

And it’s not just pedestrians who get injured or killed; pets are also caught in the crossfire. My dog was hit by a car on Christmas Day, mere feet from the site of my neighbour’s accident. Thankfully, she escaped uninjured – a bank of fresh snow cushioning her landing. The driver was a twenty something woman.

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My neighbour’s face still haunts me at night. My thoughts are consumed by his widow, daughter and granddaughter still reeling from their sudden and unexpected loss. The two young women in the Mazda3 are on my mind too – their lives will likely never be the same again. This pedestrian collision, like so many others, could have easily been avoided. But now it’s too late – too late for him and for them.

According to the Toronto Police Service, 51 per cent of pedestrian fatalities occurred from November to March. The days may be short and the weather wicked, but my plea to drivers and pedestrians alike will always be the same: Be attentive and aware. Drivers, slow down. Don’t speed. Focus on driving. Don’t get distracted by cellphones, navigation systems, or friends, family and pets in a vehicle.

Same goes for pedestrians. Wear reflective clothing at night. Don’t walk and talk on cellphones. Be aware of your surroundings. Cross at intersections. Look both ways.

Trust me. Those simple steps can save your life or someone else’s – because everything can change in an instant.

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