Any unnecessary, violent death should always be deeply disturbing. But one category of death gets far less attention than it deserves – to the point where it has been largely normalized as the acceptable by-product of our busy, mobile society.
The killing of pedestrians is an overlooked tragedy in a car-centred culture that prefers to regard road deaths as both accidental and inevitable.
They are neither – at least not if you're determined to make our cities safe places where people can go for a walk without fear of sudden death or disability.
In Toronto, 41 pedestrians have already been killed this year. That's only slightly below the homicide rate. And while auto fatalities have been steadily declining, as carmakers build safer vehicles, seatbelt use becomes commonplace and police crack down on drunk drivers, pedestrian deaths appear to be increasing.
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Blame-the-victim types will say that distracted pedestrians are the agents of their own misfortune – the image of the ear-budded millennial staring down at a phone while blindly stepping into traffic is often trotted out. But according to a long-term analysis of the data, of the 23,240 pedestrian deaths in the U.S. between 2010 and 2014, portable electronic devices were a factor in only 25 cases.
There are other kinds of distraction, to be sure, and occasions when pedestrians make fatally bad decisions. But more often it's the driver who is responsible for the death or injury of a pedestrian, whether through the deliberate distractions of technology, inattention, or the kind of misconduct that is accepted by frustrated drivers in a hurry – speeding, running a red light, failing to come to a stop when turning onto a busy street or blowing through a crosswalk.
And then there are the "accidents" that are the logical consequences of moving more than a ton of metal at speed, even for drivers obeying speed limits. Modern North American cities and suburbs were designed to serve cars and drivers, getting them from point A to B as quickly as possible. A certain amount of death is a predictable byproduct.
It is time to undo this destructive choice – by dropping speed limits, narrowing roads, extending curbs at crossings, and providing safety islands on broad, busy streets. Politicians must find the courage to resist the crude war-on-the-car arguments that will inevitably result. Pedestrians already have priority under the law. It is time they had it in reality.