What I know – Speed and Injury

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.

pedestrian fatality

More cities are lowering traffic speed limits, but does it actually make roads safer?

More cities are lowering traffic speed limits, but does it actually make roads safer?

TOM BABIN, CALGARY HERALD

More from Tom Babin, Calgary Herald – 

http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/more-cities-are-lowering-speed-limits-but-does-it-actually-make-roads-safer

Published on: July 10, 2014 – Last Updated: November 26, 2014 11:08 AM MST

child biking traffic safety

After the 12-year-old boy in her neighbourhood was killed by a sport-utility vehicle, Jodi Morel started to do the math.

And tragic mathematics it was. As a member of the traffic committee in her Calgary neighbourhood of Mount Royal, Morel was called to the scene of the collision. She learned the driver was not speeding, but the vehicle was on a street with a 50 km/h speed limit and still had enough force to kill.

“A witness walked me through the scene,” she recalls about that tragic case. “My response was that ‘(The driver) must have been speeding.’ But it was completely legal. In this case, nobody did anything wrong.”

Later, Morel found research showing how deadly a vehicle becomes the faster it is moving, like in the chart below.

Being hit by a slower moving vehicle increases the chance of survival. 

While as many as nine out of 10 pedestrians hit at 20 km/h will survive, for example, at 60 km/h — a speed Morel figures is close enough to the speed limit that few speeding tickets would be issued — as many as 90 per cent will die.

To Morel, this added up to a no-brainer conclusion. One that many jurisdictions around the world are also arriving at: If we want to save lives on city streets, lower speed limits. She subsequently started a campaign to do just that, called Slow Down YYC (on Twitter here)

Dale Calkins, a cycling advocate in Calgary, has similar ideas. He works with 30 For Sunnyside, a group urging 30 km/h speed limits in that community rather than the current default limit of 50 km/h because he think lower speeds is one way to make neighbourhood life safer for pedestrians and cyclists

“We are lacking a conversation on road safety,” he says. “There are a lot of things we should be talking about, and this is one of them.”

Many communities in Calgary struggle to control traffic speed

There are plenty of other people talking about the idea too. Many jurisdictions around the world are reducing speed limits in a bid to reduce the number of automobile deaths. New York City is in the midst of lowering its speed limit to 25 mph (40 km/h) from 30 mph. London drops to 20 mph (32 km/h) on July 20. San Francisco is looking at the same. Even Airdrie has a default speed limit of 30 km/h on residential roads. (Notwithstanding the B.C. government’s recent decision to raise speed limits on a few highways).

While the idea makes intuitive sense — slower-moving vehicles equate to less carnage on the human body — there’s the bigger question: Does it actually work? Do lower speeds make roads safer?

The answer seems to be a resounding yes, albeit with a few caveats. Dr. Don Voaklander, a professor in the school of public policy at the University of Alberta, says there are plenty of studies that show slower moving vehicles not only reduce fatalities, but result in fewer accidents as well. He cited one study that found every one per cent reduction in speed resulted in a two per cent reduction in traffic incidents.

“Reduced speeds not only reduce the severity of (collisions), slower speeds also mean drivers can brake and stop in shorter distances,” Voaklander said. “Speed does kill.”

Those caveats, however, are big ones. There’s no guarantee drivers will blindly obey reduced speed limits. Speeding is a problem today, even with a 50 km/h limit. So Voaklander says enforcement of those limits is key, especially on those wide suburban residential roads in which drivers feel safe going fast.

So if lower speed limits are such a no-brainer for safety (and a host of other reasons, from improved street life to reduced pollution), why isn’t it being done? In Calgary, there are jurisdictional  considerations — a blanket change to default limits in Calgary would require a change by the provincial government — but reducing speed limits is rarely supported by drivers. Despite speed being cited as a problem in some polls by 70 to 80 per cent of community members, there’s a lack of both political and societal will to change them. Nobody, it seems, wants their commute slowed, and such debates tend to pit commuting voters against voters living in those communities being driven through.

A study in 2006 by the OECD into speed management suggested a reason for this is psychology of drivers. Basically, it said drivers rarely think of themselves as doing something risky, even when we’re aware of the dangers of driving. Here’s an excerpt from that report:

The benefits and disadvantages of lower speeds are not perceived in the same manner by individuals and by the community as a whole. The societal consequences of road accidents are well known, and excessive speed is a major contributing factor. However, for an individual driver, the risk of being involved in an accident is relatively small and the driver therefore rarely experiences the worst safety consequences of excessive speed. The more journeys a driver completes successfully at a higher speed, the more the notion that high speeds are safe is reinforced….This contradiction between societal and individual consequences makes it a challenge to create sound speed management.

Voaklander had a more simple reason for the rejection of the idea: “Everybody thinks they’re a great driver,” he says. “We have a sense that we’re in this contained, safe (state). That we’re omnipotent”

So how is that sentiment combated? Voaklander says just as important as enforcement is education about the dangers of speeding and the benefits of the reductions. It can be a slow process, but it may be the only solution.

Few people think reduced speed limits are a panacea. But paired with education, traffic calming initiatives and enforcement, they can help make roads safer. Public sentiment seems to be swinging in that direction. Voaklander pointed to a recent plebiscite in Morinville, north of Edmonton, in which residents voted to keep photo radar because of concerns about safety, a result he wouldn’t have expected in the past, when we were more blase about traffic injuries.

Jodi Morel, for one, vows to keep raising the issue in memory of the boy killed in her neighbourhood.

“I find it surprising that people don’t understand this idea. The amount of time (a driver would save with a higher speed limit) isn’t worth the safety of somebody else,” she says. “I think if they understand that people could get killed, they might change their mind.”

 Leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter, Google Plus,or Facebook, or drop me a line via email me at tbabin@calgaryherald.com.