A Deadly Car Crash Is a Microcosm of Everything Wrong in Our Roads

Video screen capture. CityNews

A woman died at the hands of a driver going too fast on a road too wide in a truck too big in a city too enthralled by auto-centrism.

Another pedestrian in Toronto got killed recently. This on its own is not news anymore, especially on a site with an international readership; it happens all the time, in a lot of cities. But this one is particularly egregious because there are so many different things happening here, things we have written about so many times, all in one neat package.

1. It happened on a five-lane car sewer in what used to be a suburb

Dufferin Street at Briar Hill

© Google Street View/ Dufferin Street at Briar HillDufferin Street was originally the second line West of Yonge Street, which all roads in this part of Ontario are measured from. Not that long ago, it was truly suburban.

City of Toronto Archives/ Dufferin Street in 1949/Public Domain

The 1949 photograph shows a mix of houses and farms. The crash happened right up at the top edge of the photo. Today, the suburbs have moved far north of here. Most of the buildings on this part of the street are commercial, and the cars drive very quickly and aggressively.

Dufferin street

Dufferin at dusk; crowded street and empty sidewalk/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It is one of the few streets in Toronto where I do not feel safe riding my bike and I use the sidewalk occasionally, which fortunately is always empty. I wrote about this once and some people were not impressed.

But 50-year-old Isabel Soria was using the sidewalk and the crosswalk with the light when crossing to get to the Service Ontario depot, where one renews their driver's licences, and a driver of a vehicle hit her, inflicting life-threatening injuries. She died in hospital.

It has always been a dangerous street, but now it is being redeveloped with condos and apartments, and a lot more people live in the area. The street should be evolving along with the neighbourhood, but it hasn't; it is still a high-speed car sewer full of frustrated drivers.

2. The instrument of death is a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

statistics on deaths

© New Scientist

We have noted many times that pickup trucks are three times as deadly as cars, because they are essentially a wall of steel. Where most cars are designed to the tough European pedestrian safety standards, North American light trucks and SUVs (known as LTVs or Light Trucks and Vans) are not. Naomi Buck describes what happens in the Globe and Mail:

A pedestrian hit by a passenger car will, with luck (a relative term), be struck in the legs and sent over the hood. An LTV will probably strike a pedestrian with its blunt hood – for adults, at the level of the torso, home of the vital organs; for kids, the level of the head. The LTV will then knock 65 per cent of adults and 93 per cent of children to the ground, where they have a good chance of being run over.

Drivers of big LTVs also tend to drive faster than drivers of cars. Buck writes: "Studies show the more convinced a driver is of the safety of his own vehicle, the more careless he is in its operation."

3. The driver did a hit and run.

This used to be rare, but these days seems almost par for the course. No doubt the driver will show up at a police station soon; he was using the vehicle for work (he was wearing hi-viz) and someone is going to finger him. But Gil Penalosa is right, this has to be treated like murder. I am not sure four years is even enough.

What to do?

  • Put red light cameras on every intersection on a major street. They pay for themselves in tickets and we would have a picture of this guy.
  • As I have written before, Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get rid of them. The manufacturers should have to meet the same Euro NCAP safety standards that cars are designed to. The Europeans design SUVs that meet the criteria; so can North American manufacturers.
  • Bring in special licensing for work vehicles. A light crossover SUV is more like a car, but if it doesn't meet those NCAP safety standards then drivers should need special testing and licensing.
  • Get real about Vision Zero and drop the speed limits. People should not be speeding on Dufferin Street; there are too many people living around it now. And redesign it too, so that intersections are safer.
  • As Gil Penalosa suggested, drastically increase the penalty for hit-and-run. People who do this should really pay and never be allowed to drive again.
When the Conservative Party won the recent Ontario election and Doug Ford became Premier, Journalist John Ibbitson noted on the CBC Sunday Edition that two-thirds of the people in the province now live in suburbs, and were sick of carbon taxes, high energy costs and investment in transit when they drove everywhere and wanted cheap gas. This is why change is so hard and takes so long

But even they must be getting tired of all the death on the roads. This is too high a price to pay.