Cars today are being designed with more and more sophisticated and effective safety mechanisms to protect their occupants, which has led to a decrease in emergency room visits for car occupants involved in collisions. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for pedestrians and cyclists who continue to be extremely vulnerable on the roads and are more likely to be seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents than car occupants. Just two weeks ago, a deadly accident in North York left three pedestrians injured and one dead, while the driver of the vehicle remained relatively unscathed, suffering only minor injuries.
For drivers who strike, injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists, the punishments are minimal. Charges are frequently not laid by police based on the behaviour of the driver, and drivers walk away without any punishment. In cases where charges are laid, drivers often end up with a slap on the wrist – their charges are reduced at trial, they receive suspended sentences and/or fines under $500. Although victims can generally recover financial damages against the at-fault driver in a civil lawsuit, it is the insurance company and not the driver who usually pays. Because the consequences of driving without regard to pedestrians and cyclists are minimal, there is little deterrent effect and no incentive for drivers to be more cautious.
Recently, there has been talk of lowering the speed limits on residential streets to 30 km per hour in some Ontario jurisdictions. Proponents of this initiative cite research that confirms the risk of fatality for cyclists and pedestrians decreases at lower driving speeds. But others argue that reducing speeds in already gridlocked areas like the GTA would further aggravate frustrated drivers, thereby increasing the number of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. It is undeniable that pedestrians and cyclists are at increased risk at higher vehicle speeds. On the other hand, research suggests that when speed limits are arbitrarily set lower than the design speeds for roads, drivers tend to disregard the posted limits and drive at higher speeds anyway.
A recent Toronto Star article suggested that of Vulnerable Road User laws, which have already been passed in New York, Oregon and Washington, should also be implemented in Ontario. These laws define vulnerable road users as pedestrians, cyclists, road workers or persons using mobility devices and would implement harsher penalties on drivers who injure or kill such individuals.
Changing the Highway Traffic Act to take vulnerable road users into account would create a deterrent effect for drivers and lead to increased road safety in a way that blanket speed limit reductions would not. Drivers will likely continue to speed and drive dangerously regardless of the posted speed limits if the consequences of striking and killing pedestrians remain the same. And pedestrians and cyclists will continue to be injured in unacceptably high numbers unless changes are made. Motor vehicles are potentially lethal weapons, so it is important to require drivers to exercise caution in handling those vehicles when they share the roads with vulnerable road users.
For more information, contact personal injury lawyer Tim Leigh-Bell online or by telephone at 1-800-797-6989.