Saturday, January 10, 2009

Love Affair with Rules = Impatience, Danger on the Roads

Two different Toronto Star articles, in two different sections, on two different dates, yet they seem to be carrying on a conversation about Toronto's piss-poor drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Has the City of Toronto, with its endless rules, and the Highway Traffic Act turned us into robots, too stupid even to see danger?

The conversation:

In North America, "the idea is that our drivers should be given no discretion, and you can't trust their judgment at all," says Staddon [John Staddon, an emeritus professor of psychology at Duke University in North Carolina]. "To the extent that you take away the opportunity for drivers to make independent decisions, they're that much more dangerous. They're expecting instructions rather than looking" at what's happening. (Kenneth Kidd, The Toronto Star, 3 January 2009)

"Everybody seems to feel the need to get where they're going yesterday. They rush, they get stressed, they make mistakes," he [Constable Mig Roberts] says.

"We average 1.2 million vehicles coming through the city every day. Driving here is very complex. You relax for one second, it can make the difference between safe and not safe." (Bill Taylor, Wheels Section The Toronto Star, 27 December 2008)

Across Europe there's a growing movement to remove all manner of excess signage, even stoplights and sidewalks. The practical result is that everyone has to be more focused on the road, more cautious. (Kenneth Kidd, The Toronto Star, 3 January 2009)

"If there was a yellow car behind them, drivers would be slamming on their brakes at an amber light. If you're in a car like this [a stealth cruiser], you're far more likely to see people putting their foot down to get through it. It's almost laughable sometimes what you see people do." (Bill Taylor, Wheels Section The Toronto Star, 27 December 2008)

In parts of Europe where they've done this – London's Kensington High Street – the number of accidents involving pedestrians has fallen by 40 per cent or more. (Kenneth Kidd, The Toronto Star, 3 January 2009)

He recalls a woman dashing out of a store on a slippery winter day and attempting to hurry across Queen St. She ran right in front of his car. Luckily for her, Roberts saw her coming and was already on the brakes, "but I think she saw her life flash before her eyes. People have to learn that in a battle between a one-tonne vehicle and flesh ... they're not going to win." (Bill Taylor, Wheels Section The Toronto Star, 27 December 2008)

And Staddon notes, even in the U.S., when roundabouts have replaced stop signs, the number of collisions typically dropped by 40 per cent, and deaths by 90 per cent. (Kenneth Kidd, The Toronto Star, 3 January 2009)

The light on Queen St. at Ossington Ave. is changing from green. A black Chevy, with plenty of time to stop, ducks through on the amber and hangs a left. The light is red before he's completed his turn. But with other traffic and pedestrians nearby, Roberts decides not to pursue him. (Bill Taylor, Wheels Section The Toronto Star, 27 December 2008)

Danesi recalls taking a taxi in Naples several years ago. It was early morning and the cab went through every red light, something an American colleague travelling with him found most distressing.

Danesi asked the cabbie about it.

The reply: "Are you crazy? Stopping here when there's no traffic? What do you think we are, robots?" (Kenneth Kidd, The Toronto Star, 3 January 2009)

For a moment, it looks like the cyclist will do the right thing.

As the light turns red at the intersection of Queen St. W. and Strachan Ave., he brakes to a halt and balances for a second on his bike. Instead of staying put, however, he chooses to ride through the intersection – and the red light.

"I think I'll have a word with him about that," says Mig Roberts.

The dark blue Ford Crown Victoria pulls alongside and the cyclist finally registers that it's a police car.

His reaction?

"Oh, jeez."

He tells Roberts, "I was trying to anticipate the light changing."

"The light will change to green again," the constable says. "You just have to wait."

It could have meant a $190 ticket. But not this time; there's just a warning.

"Thanks officer," the cyclist says. He rides away, pointedly checking this time that the light is in his favour. (Bill Taylor, Wheels Section The Toronto Star, 27 December 2008)

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