a blog written by Brandon Mowat

Get Rid of Your Car

The harsh truth about the safety of our roads

Tue Nov 29 2022

Ontario’s fatality rate of 0.55 per 10,000 licensed drivers was in the top 5 ranking in all of North America. For 23 years in a row, our province has ranked in the top five for road safety among all North American jurisdictions.

This is the foreword of Ontarios 2019 "Road Safety Report". In it, they boast about how Ontario roads are among the safest in North America and make a point to call out that Ontario roads rank second in all of North America for road safety. At first glance, this passage reads as a sigh of relief and reenforces the belief that cars are the superior method of transportation; it's more of a pat-on-the-back for the government than a self reflection.

But if we look into the data from a different perspective, the numbers tell a different story.

Cars Kill People

In 2019, Ontario recorded 584 deaths as a result of vehicular incidents on the roads; 1.4% of cyclists and 3% of all pedestrians involved in vehicular accidents resulted in death. These cyclist and pedestrian fatalities account for almost 25% of the 584 recorded road fatalities in that year alone. In years prior, 2006 to 2017, Stats Canada reported that most cycling fatalities occurred at rush hour and that more than half of them took place in cities, which leads us to understand that people who commute to our cities for work account for the majority of perpetrators. The story that these numbers tell isn't that our roads are safe or are something to be proud of, but rather a cautionary tale that our roads are dangerous for all: drivers, passengers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

Cyclists and pedestrians bear the brunt of the detriment that cars bring to our cities, and they pay for it, not with taxes for continuous disruptive repairs to our degrading roads, but with their lives. It's plainly clear that the focus that cities and their planners put on cars as a primary mode of transportation and subsequent lack of safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, put our neighbours, friends, and family in unsafe positions which result in their preventible deaths. Options like taking the bus, train, subway, or streetcar are much more suited for people traveling distances not suited for bikes than taking a car, and are much safer. The National Safety Council reported that "over the last 10 years, passenger vehicle death rate [...] was over 10 times higher than for buses, 17 times higher than for passenger trains." source

Cars aren't made with safety of others as a priority

Being confined to a noise-insulating, two-tonne heap of metal that can get to speeds upwards of 100km/h, obviously has issues with it.

Firstly, is the problem of speed: the momentum that cars have make it very hard to stop quickly. Drivers also rarely ever follow the signed speed limits since cars have no speed limits enforced on them other than by police that scarcely monitor the roads. Conversely, vehicles like electric scooters have speed limits enforced through software so as not to put riders and the people around them in danger.

Secondly, cars make it difficult to interact with the world around them because they prioritize luxury and comfort over the safety of others; they reduce noise from the street and have loud speaker systems to further drown out signal from pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists, however, handle this road communication better because they're immersed in their environment, unobstructed from being able to make eye contact, and speak to the people around them. Cyclists continuously, (un)consciously negotiate with others and with their surroundings to prevent collisions or mediate traffic flows. In doing so, they interact with a large number of other road users and objects in physical spacesource.

Cars are isolating for drivers and do not allow them to adequately interact with their environments while cycling and walking does. This isolation not only increases the chances for hazardous accidents, but also stunts our learning about our environments that would otherwise happen. Although the windows are made of glass, would you rather not be able to see, hear, and even smell the city around you?

What else is there?

Two days prior to when I wrote this very sentence, the New York Times published an article titled: "The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths", which I've already shown the problem to extend beyond our border with them. In the article they focus on how road deaths are on the rise in the US, and I'll give Canada credit where its due in-so-far as our road fatality rate is on the decline. They illustrated the problem with a chart comparing US road deaths to other comparable countries where you can see that countries like Japan and France experience much fewer deaths as a result of cars.

Deaths from road accidents, per million people

Tesla fanboys and "car-brained" people all use the same hammers for every transit related problem, one of which is claiming that autonomous vehicles will solve our safety epidemic. While it may be true that removing the imperfections of human drivers will improve safety on our roads, the fact still stands that software is never perfect and always has flaws. Who do they think writes the code that instructs a car how to drive itself?

The way that we solve our problems is not making our cars into robots, it's to remove our dependancy on cars; to provide better, safer, and more convenient options that prioritize efficiency, safety, and people. The reason that France and Japan have much safer roads isn't that they have cars that drive themselves, but that they have some of the best public transit in the world, which for your convenience do not require you to drive. We need to prioritize building great railways, subways, and actually safe bike lanes instead of just green paint on the side of the highway. This is the way we build great cities.


Link to Ontarios 2019 road safety report

Stats Canada: Circumstances surrounding cycling fatalities in Canada, 2006-2017

Table 3-1: Transportation Fatalities by Mode (Number of people), Canada

Travelling together alone and alone together: mobility and potential exposure to diversity

Statistics of Road Traffic Accidents: IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA

Passenger death rates, United States, 2007-2020

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Written by Brandon Mowat
building useful things at Ada, in the city of Toronto

made from scratch