Drivers Should Pay Attention to This Art of Distraction Campaign

Public Domain. City of Toronto/ Friends and Families for Safe Streets

Powerful displays show the stuff left behind when people who walk or bike are killed by people who drive.

The Art of Distraction is a new campaign that takes real (or recreated) belongings from walking and cycling people killed by people in cars, and puts them on display. Created by Friends and Families for Safe Streets and the City of Toronto, it is part of the City's otherwise lame Vision Zero initiative. There are five displays set up around the city in transit shelters, along with a multi-media campaign.

I might otherwise suggest that this is lame too, ads telling drivers to slow down instead of actually slowing them down with road design and enforcement, but in fact, it is pretty powerful and moving.

One thing that really impresses me is the way they never say how the victim was hit by a truck or a car or van; Tom was struck by "someone driving a van." Edouard was killed by "someone driving a car." Jessica was on her bike when hit by "a person driving an SUV" These are not just extra words, but set a tone where they blame drivers, real people, not depersonalized machines.

Toms story

City of Toronto/ Friends and Families for Safe Streets/Public Domain

I followed the case of Tom Samson closely, as he was killed a few blocks from where I live and it was particularly tragic, a hit and run. They might have made the message even stronger by naming the drivers, noting that Tom was struck by Miguel Oliveira, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to all of fifteen weekends in jail and can't drive for two years. According to the CBC, Tom Sampson's dad was "frustrated that the Criminal Code of Canada sets so little price on the life of a person who is killed in a hit and run accident." Aren't we all.

They don't tell all of that in these ads; they keep it short and to the point. Tom Sampson's widow tells David Rider of the Star:

We knew our stories were impactful. We knew we had closets full, and boxes full, of artifacts that show the impact of what happened to us. We had discussions — what do we do with this stuff, what do we do with these stories? When the city came to us, it was a great vehicle for us to be able to share our stories and our artifacts.
Erica's story

City of Toronto/ Friends and Families for Safe Streets/Public Domain

Yes, the stories are impactful. But the stories of what happened after are shocking. If the drivers of vehicles knew that the driver of the minivan who killed Erica Stark was fined $1,000 and given six months of probation and six months of varying driving restrictions, they might realize how silly this all is. Had the people behind the displays told the full story it would give comfort to drivers – they can kill with impunity and get a little fine, do a hit-and-run and lose a few weekends.

As Oliver Moore noted in the Globe and Mail,

The sentence [for killing Erica] left some fuming about the value put on a life lost in a vehicle collision. And Ms. Stark's husband, David Stark – whose powerful victim impact statement described how he would try to comfort his crying children as they shared his bed after their mother's death – argued that even the greatest possible punishment under the current law would not have been enough.

David Rider points out that William P. Laurie, why killed Edouard Le Blanc, was fined all of $ 700 and six demerits, not enough to even lose a licence.

New York vision zero

© New York Vision Zero

The key to Vision Zero is designing safer streets, but enforcement is important. In New York, and I think in Toronto too, they put education and law enforcement up above street design, because it's cheaper and really, nothing has to change. There is a lot of outrage when someone gets killed, but it is the cost of doing business. The wonderful thing about this Art of Distraction is how, at last, it puts people behind the wheel.

But it's not enough. Speed cameras and red light cameras for enforcement, traffic calming and street improvements for better road sharing, and legislation that radically increases the penalties for killing people with a vehicle are needed now.