Pedestrian Death Review Calls for Pedestrian-Friendly Roads

By Roger Foisy on December 5th, 2012

After 95 pedestrian deaths in 2010, Ontario’s Chief Coroner undertook a Pedestrian Death Review in order to make recommendations for improved road safety.  The review is clear that drivers of motor vehicles are not solely to blame.  Pedestrian behaviour and unaccommodating road design also contribute to road safety.

70% of the deaths were attributable to five circumstances:

(1)    Pedestrians struck at mid-block crossings (31%);

(2)    Pedestrians struck on the sidewalk or a road’s shoulder (14%);

(3)    Pedestrians struck without right-of-way in an intersection (11%);

(4)    Pedestrians struck with right-of-way in an intersection by left-turning vehicles (7%);

(5)    Pedestrians struck with right-of-way in an intersection by right-turning vehicles (7%).

The review found drivers to be responsible for excessive vehicle speed, failure to yield, inattention, and drug and/or alcohol use.  67% of the deaths occurred on roads with a posted speed limit of 50 km/h or over, while only 5% of deaths happened with posted speeds of less than 50 km/h.  

The review found that approximately 20% of the pedestrians were distracted.  12% of fatalities were caused by pedestrians crossing against the signal; 31% involved pedestrian mid-block crossings.  In 28% of the pedestrian fatalities, there was a positive test for drugs and/or alcohol.  10% of the fatalities involved pedestrians who used assistive devices such as canes, walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs.

The Pedestrian Death Review called for various recommendations in legislation, engineering, education, and enforcement to improve road safety.  The review called for a ‘complete streets approach’ for the development and re-development of roads as shared spaces—for walking and for transportation, recreation and health.  In terms of legislative actions and changes to road-design engineering, the review suggested that municipalities set the unsigned default speed limit to 40 km/h on residential streets, decreased from the current speed of 50 km/h.  As heavy trucks were involved in 12% of the pedestrian fatalities, resulting in pedestrians being dragged, pinned, or run over, the review called for mandatory side guards on trucks to offer some form of protection.

To decrease mid-block crossing fatalities, the review suggested the creation of by-laws to create non-signalized pedestrian crossings for mid-block crossings in residential areas.  In addition, establishing leading pedestrian signal intervals (LPI) in intersections would allow pedestrians a few seconds head start before vehicles which are turning left and right are allowed to.  LPIs improve the visibility of pedestrians.  A pedestrian’s legal presence is already established before the motor traffic receives their green signal.

The report also called for improved public education programs focusing on the duties and responsibilities of drivers and pedestrians.  Such programs should consider the particular circumstances for adults, seniors, and children.  Having more strident traffic-law enforcement initiatives was the final recommendation.

The Office of the Chief Coroner held that Ontario’s pedestrian deaths were 100% preventable.  While these recommendations would contribute to safer roads, their implementation requires political will, financial resources, and public engagement.  Both drivers and pedestrians alike have responsibilities when it comes to sharing the road, and it doesn’t take much effort to be a smarter pedestrian or driver.

However, there will always be hurried, careless drivers, just as there will always be distracted, phone-using pedestrians.  Respecting each other and respecting the rules of the road will be an ongoing challenge for all.

Roger Foisy