TORONTO - A rash of pedestrian fatalities in the Toronto area had experts sounding the alarm Wednesday about the deadly combination of reckless drivers and aloof pedestrians competing for space on crowded city streets.
"They're blinded with their hoods. They've got their earphones on. They've blocked out any awareness," Toronto police Const. Hugh Smith said about pedestrians, who are often tuned into their MP3 players instead of traffic signals.
But drivers weren't off the hook either.
"We've made it our secondary comfort zone," said Smith, as he described the laid-back behaviour of many motorists who play loud music, eat in their cars and think they can multi-task while driving.
The number of pedestrians killed by cars has become a cause for concern for police. On Wednesday morning, another person died after being struck by a vehicle. It was the 10th pedestrian fatality in eight days in the Greater Toronto Area.
The latest death happened in the city's northwest end. A woman was trying to cut across a road when she was hit by a minivan.
Police said such accidents can be caused by hurried people scurrying out onto the street against a light, and aggressive drivers speeding along, unaware of their surroundings.
In 2009, the total number of fatalities in car accidents in the city was 48. But 31 of those deaths involved pedestrians and 19 of those were senior citizens.
"What the unsettling part is, is that our pedestrian numbers went up," explained Smith.
In 2008, there were 54 vehicle fatalities in total, while 27 pedestrians were struck and killed. While the numbers seem close, Smith said it is in fact "a noticeable spike."
Smith said the mild winter has given motorists a false sense of security as they whip around on the roads.
During rush hour, people on city sidewalks also have a herd mentality and move in masses across the street without bothering to check if they have the right of way.
"We have aggressive drivers, but we also have aggressive pedestrians. We have pedestrians who will not wait for a fresh light," he said.
Ward Vanlaar, a research scientist for the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, said a 2009 report completed by the organization on vulnerable road users showed a reason for concern.
Vanlaar said the current number of fatalities in Toronto for this year may not indicate a statistical trend, but national data shows there has been a significant number of pedestrians killed by vehicles.
"There's really a lot of pedestrians dying in road crashes," said Vanlaar. "In Canada in 2006, there were 374 pedestrian fatalities accounting for 12.9 per cent of all road user fatalities," he said, referring to the most recent data.
A public opinion poll conducted by the organization showed Canadians are lax when it comes to pedestrians and their safety.
"Canadians are not overly concerned about pedestrians and cyclists behaving unsafe on the road," said Vanlaar.
According to the poll, Canadians considered jaywalking the second least risky behaviour for road users, despite its often fatal consequences.
While pedestrians and drivers may squabble over who's following the rules of the road, Vanlaar said it's little consolation for someone who is dealing with a tragedy.
"Discussing the fact whether you were right or not is not really relevant when you're the most vulnerable road user, because you may be right, but if you were dead and right it doesn't make a difference."
Brian Patterson from The Ontario Safety League said along with mutual respect between drivers and pedestrians, he would also like to see better driver education.
"You could have Canada's worst driver as your teacher," said Patterson, adding that only 20 per cent of motorists have attended a driving school.