Take a minute to consider the distracted-walking ban Image

Take a minute to consider the distracted-walking ban

By Sam Reiss on Nov 08, 2017

Cyclists vs pedestrians. Drivers v. cyclists. Pedestrians vs drivers. Our streets have never been more crowded or more chaotic.

We’ve had an epidemic of pedestrian collisions recently, including last Friday when 10 pedestrians (and a cyclist) were hit in 11 separate incidents across the city in one day.

There were 1,500 incidents involving pedestrians in 2016 including 43 deaths – an undesirable record. We’ve already seen more than 1,400 collisions involving pedestrians in 2017, according to the Toronto Star.

It’s typical, according to police, for the number of collisions to peak this time of year, as days shorten and visibility changes. Signals, painted lines and lights are all good measures, but there’s no substitute for vigilance.

I am not, repeat, am not defending distracted drivers, whether they’re texting, noshing, playing with the radio or yelling at the kids. There is no excuse for not paying attention when you’re piloting several thousand kilograms of potentially deadly steel on public streets.

That said, I have personally noticed an alarming number of distracted pedestrians lately. Yesterday as I tried to make a left into a parking lot with a double driveway, a gentleman strolling with his eyes glued to his phone stopped right in the middle of the driveway to, I suppose, pursue a particularly engaging online conversation.

I beeped my horn — one short, swift note — at which he looked up, gazed at me momentarily and resumed his digital discourse. Every day I see a jaywalker leave the curb still glued to their screens, and stroll across mid-block, diagonally no less, with three-quarters of their back to oncoming traffic.

Even if you’re doing everything right and the drivers are wrong (I’ve also seen many a driver blow through a crosswalk without so much as slowing down), as a pedestrian, you are the most vulnerable. You are the one likely to suffer severe injuries or die in the event of a collision. Being right is not going to make you feel any better in the emergency room.

Distracted walking in Toronto

This week, Liberal MPP Yvan Baker introduced a private member’s bill called “Phones Down, Heads Up” that proposes fines up to $125 for using a mobile device while crossing the street. Some are calling it the “Zombie Bill.”

Criticized as “victim blaming,” Baker defended the idea to Toronto Life this week, saying that in 2010, Ontario’s chief coroner found that 7% of pedestrian fatalities involved people distracted by their phones. Anecdotally, I think that number is probably way up since then.

The idea that “victim-blaming” and “personal responsibility” are the same thing is a major annoyance of our Internet age. I don’t condone blaming the victim, but isn’t there a point when we should be accountable for our own actions?

Crossing the street while texting is as foolhardy as driving and texting, albeit with less potential for hurting someone besides yourself (though the driver will no doubt by traumatized if involved in a serious accident).

Holding pedestrians accountable for their actions does not absolve inattentive drivers, but I’ve had enough near misses behind the wheel — when fully present, distraction free and actively looking for potential problems, which is the only way to navigate our city streets — to think there’s some culpability here.

Fines don’t appear to be a major deterrent. There have been stories in the Sun and in the National Post, on City TV and CBC in just the last month alone that say fines aren’t helping much. But negative attention does help, and so does pressure from friends and family.

Years ago when a friend of mine took a motorcycle safety course, the instructor posed the following: If you and your motorcycle arrive at an intersection at precisely the same moment as three other vehicles, who has the right of way? The students were stymied. The answer? Whoever is in the biggest vehicle.

It may not be right, but no one has as vested an interest in your personal safety than you do.

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