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Schwandt is deputy medical health officer of the Saskatoon Health Region.
San Francisco has a public health problem on its streets, and so does the rest of the country. Guns were used to murder 8,454 people in this country in 2013, but more than 32,000 people — almost four times as many — were killed on our roadways that year. While gun violence rightfully draws intense media attention, this country has become collectively indifferent to the many more people killed while walking, biking or riding in vehicles. With cities such as San Francisco and New York leading the way, there is growing momentum at the local, state and federal levels to end traffic deaths. Under the leadership of Mayor Ed Lee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, we adopted a goal in February 2014 of eliminating all traffic deaths in San Francisco by 2024, whether people are walking, riding a bike or in a vehicle. A staggering one-half of all patients seen at San Francisco General Hospital’s trauma center are injured in some type of collision involving a motor vehicle. Recent research estimates that the medical costs for just the pedestrian injuries treated at the hospital amount to $15 million each year, and three-fourths of that money comes from taxpayers. In San Francisco, 12 percent of streets are the site of more than 70 percent of severe and fatal collisions, and half of those high-injury streets are in low-income neighborhoods or those with high populations of seniors or people of color. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has challenged all mayors to take action over the next year to improve safety for people walking and riding bicycles.
PUBLISHED21/02/2015 | 02:30
Roseann and Chris Brennan, parents of victim Jake Brennan, at the end of the protest to Jake’s Legacy which took place outside Leinster House, Dublin. Pic Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
The unopposed passage in the Dáil this week of a law Bill (Jake’s law) to introduce a 20kph speed limit in residential areas is a measure of the support across all political parties for strengthening rules to promote road safety.
The private members bill, sponsored by Sinn Féin Deputy Dessie Ellis, was prompted by the grieving parents of a young boy, Jake Brennan, who died after being hit by a car outside his home in a Kilkenny housing estate. Since this life-altering tragedy, the family have been campaigning to have 20kph speed limits introduced in residential estates.
Such mandatory limits are not straight forward and the minister, in welcoming and supporting the principle of the bill, indicated he had instructed local authorities to examine and report on the implementation of the measure and for the Attorney General to liaise with the deputy sponsoring the bill on how best to progress the new law. The law as it stands sets a default speed limit of 50kph in built-up areas, but allows local authorities to set a limit of 30kph where they believe it is appropriate.The minister has been active in recent months in pressing for action by the local authorities and has ordered a review of speed limits and gave €2m funding to assist in this exercise. Complications arise, however, in what constitutes a “residential” road. Some residential roads are in fact substantial routes for traffic. So mandatory centrally-imposed speed limits would be inappropriate.
Despite criticism, the minister was right to hasten slowly on this. One can imagine traffic chaos if overnight a national mandatory speed limit of 20kph was introduced.
Local authorities are the best vehicle for changing the local speed limits, based on knowledge of the area and traffic flows, and not to mention business activity. The minister is to progress the principle of Jake’s law as this initiative and bill has been titled in the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill, which will shortly come before committee.
Excessive speed was cited as a contributory factor in 15pc of all fatalities in Ireland in the period between 2002-2012; the economic cost to society of speeding- related collisions was estimated at €140m per year for the period. Of all motorcyclists killed, 25pc were in speed-related collisions. Of all private car drivers killed on the roads, 16pc were killed in speed-related collisions. Of these, 16pc were learner drivers. Of the 411 fatal collisions where excessive speed was a factor, 232 (56pc) were single vehicle crashes.
Dublin, Cork and Donegal are the counties where the greatest number of excessive speed-related collisions occurred.
Over the years, major improvements in road safety have been achieved as measured by fatalities and serious injury. The decade from 2002 to 2012, the same period as for those figures above, saw road deaths drop from 376 to 162, a reduction of 60pc. Such a dramatic improvement did not happen by chance. It involved improving road quality and setting higher standards for vehicle safety through NCT and commercial vehicle testing. Tougher laws on drink driving and mandatory alcohol testing were introduced. Penalty points, introduced in 2002, have proven to be both a deterrent and an educational tool.
But the last two years have seen a regrettable rise in road fatalities. There were 197 in 2014. Although driver deaths were down, vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists were up. Four out of 10 who died in 2014 was either a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorcyclist. Sadly, 16 children aged up to 15 years lost their lives, double the previous year.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) will be particularly focusing on vulnerable road users in the 2015 strategy and awareness campaigns.
Elderly people and young children are those most at risk. Those aged over 60 accounted for 40pc of all pedestrian deaths. Eight children were knocked down and killed last year. That is why the proposal to reduce speed of vehicles in residential areas where children are playing is so important.
The Department of Transport completed a speed limits review in 2013 in consultation with the RSA, NRA and the AA as well as the Garda Síochána and local authorities. The review was detailed and made special recommendations on speed, including proposals for what are called Urban Shared Spaces or home zones. These home zones would be a formal designation under the Roads Act and would attract a maximum speed limit.
But that would still leave the issue of dealing with vehicle traffic and speed in existing residential areas not designed to that particular urban design model. The challenge now is to follow through on the principle of Jake’s Law. The move is in line with such limits fast gaining acceptance across EU cities, most recently Edinburgh and Milan.
Speeding, both excessive and inappropriate, remains one of the main causes of collisions and of deaths and serious injuries on our roads. Four out of five penalty point events are for speeding. We are all offenders.
If we as a society and as road users could just slow down by 15kph, we would reduce road collisions by 20pc. Small changes in our driving behaviour can make a huge difference and even save a life. If a car hits a child at 30kph, there is a 90pc chance the child will live. If hit at 50kph, the child’s survival likelihood is 50/50. If hit at 60kph, the chances are that the child will be killed.
How about that for a New Year resolution worth keeping.
I was raised on a ranch in a small community where everyone knew everyone. I also was inducted into the reality of accidental death at a very early age. When I was ten years old, Gordon Collier, my friend, my crush, the most beautiful boy in the world, died while riding a dirt bike at a nearby gravel pit. What stands out in my mind is the affect on the family and on (we) the children. What I learned from that experience is there is no acceptable number, no acceptable loss. The impact of Gordon’s death on his friends, classmates, family and community was beyond measure. When we determine change and policy based on statistics, we are completely ignorant of the true impact of the issue. It simply can not be measured in numbers or dollars and cents.
I fast forward to July 27th, 2013. I did not know that the speed limit was 50km an hour on all residential streets unless otherwise marked, nor did I give it much thought. I did not know that the law would permit speeds of 10 to 12k over the speed limit before issuing a ticket. I did not know what would happen to a person when hit at 50km an hour.
I did not know Neil, or at least I did not know his name, but I knew his face and I knew him as one of the many children who would play near the streets in my community. I was afraid for his safety as he and others would skateboard, bike and play where commuters were “commuting” with little regard for the activity around them. Two weeks before the accident, I found him on the sidewalk rubbing a bruised ankle. I stopped to ask if he was okay, and watched as he nodded and quickly dashed away on his skateboard. That is the last time I saw him alive.
On a Saturday morning I received the email from my neighbour telling me there had been an accident. A boy in front of his house had been struck by a vehicle. It was terrible and I should come. I went, my four-year-old and dog in tow, and we walked the few blocks to the scene of the accident where my neighbour graphically detailed the accident and the the boys’ injuries. Out of respect of the family, witnesses and friends of the boy, I will not speak of the details of the accident other than to say I am sorry, and it is unacceptable. The vehicle hit the 12 year old and then continued to travel three-quarters of a block, up a very steep hill, until it reluctantly came to a stop. It was unbelievable. The first words out of my mouth were, “Obviously the driver was speeding!”
I was quickly assured that in fact, what we were looking at was actually what would be expected at 50k- 60k. I did not yet know that this was the same boy who I had helped only two weeks before.
On that day, I came to know the impact of what is seemingly slow speed, has on a human body. I also was made aware that all streets are 50k unless marked otherwise, a speed limit that would most certainly end in injury or death.
I was appalled and angry at a system that had failed, knowing that the legal speed is entirely too fast. I got in my SUV and I went to the very street where the accident happened, and I tried…I really tried. I “punched it”, heart pounding, trying to hit 50km through a blind intersection with a two-way stop that most ignored, up a steep hill, on a road less than four metres across, and I couldn’t do it. I failed… yet an inexperienced driver managed to accomplish what I could not, and a boy who had promise in the world, is no longer with us. And it is completely acceptable. I proceeded to drive other streets in the community and monitored my speed. Never did I comfortably exceed 30k.
I can’t blame the teenage boys who were in the SUV that struck and killed Neil as the law permitted the speed, however fast and dangerous. The 12 year old made a mistake, which children often do. The problem is in the policy, which is outdated, and unsafe.
I went home and I began to research on my computer “speed and pedestrian death”. The information was overwhelming. I found studies and statistics supporting my observation and recommendations from the most credible resources, including the Chief Coroner of Ontario, stating that the currents speeds on residential streets were deadly.
Therefore I refer to a 12 year old boy named Neil, when I speak to lowering speed in communities because Neil defined an issue, which is the safe and acceptable speed on residential streets, and it’s not 50km/hr. It is an undebatable truth in physical law that the chance of death or serious injury does not increase in relation to speed. In fact, the chance of death increases exponentially with even a minor increase (10km/hr) in speed.
• 32 km per hour impact speeds: 5 percent death, 65 percent injured, and 30 percent uninjured
• 48 km per hour impact speeds: 45 percent death, 50 percent injured, and 5 percent uninjured
• 64 km per hour impact speeds: 85 percent death and 15 percent injured – no one uninjured.
Of course it goes beyond speed; it is understanding, education, compassion, empathy, respect and an appreciation for a livable community, regardless of where you live. However, until we as a society reach a level of humanity that puts others before our selves, we have no choice but to create law to govern behaviour. That is the nature of law. For this reason, I request that we reduce the speed in residential communities to save lives and improve livability and safety. There is no statistical number than can measure the loss of a life, or the impact it has on a community. I wish I could go back in time, but I can’t, and now I know… 50k is not okay on residential streets where children play and people live.
- Temporary Sidewalks Part of Calgary’s Effort to Help Pedestrians.
- Where the Rubber Meets the Road: The current situation is a system failure
- Where the Rubber Meets the Road: speed is the most important factor to regulate
- Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Total Cost per Capita
- Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Child pedestrians Seven times more likely to be hospitalized