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Pedestrian collisions and the need for awareness

By Jennifer Pritchett, Associate Editor

With the number of pedestrian deaths on the rise, it’s critical that people are “situationally aware” at all times, says Toronto orthopaedic spine and trauma surgeon Dr. Michael Ford.

“If you’re not paying attention, you have no way of protecting yourself,” he tells

“When it’s pedestrian versus car, your only protection is getting out of the way. And if you’re not even aware that you need to get out of the way, then you’ve lost any chance of avoiding that altercation. Invariably, the pedestrian loses.”

Ford says he has seen an increase in the number of pedestrians being injured or killed because of inattention either on the part of the pedestrian or the driver.

At least 42 pedestrians were killed between Jan. 1 and Dec. 22, 2017 in Toronto, according to statistics compiled by the Toronto Star. Four cyclists died in the same period.

“The pedestrian numbers, which the Star compiled using media reports and police news releases, are higher than the official police count, which puts the number of pedestrians killed since the start of the year at 36,” says the newspaper.

In 2016, police said 43 pedestrians died, “the worst total in more than a decade,” reports the Star.

The surge in pedestrian deaths has resulted in Toronto’s mayor making a commitment to road safety with new measures including installing signs near some schools to remind drivers to slow down and extending curbs with paint to reduce crossing distances, reports the Canadian Press.

The measures would be part of the city's five-year "Vision Zero'' plan that began last year, says the wire service.

Ford says collisions involving pedestrians typically result in the person having significant injuries.

“The ones that make it to hospital alive invariably do have significant injuries,” he says.

Even in lower-velocity collisions, the injuries can still be serious because when it comes to “a car versus a pedestrian, you’re incredibly lucky to get away with just scrapes and bruises,” Ford adds.

“At best, you’re going to have a lower-extremity fracture and at worst, it’s going to be bilateral lower-extremity fractures plus pelvis and/or a significant spine injury,” he says. “Head injuries are also common.

“Pedestrians obviously have no protection, and with the mass of the vehicle, the forces applied are quite significant. A pedestrian’s ability to withstand or resist those forces is pretty limited.”

Ford says some patients will say they were wearing earplugs at the time of the crash or they were looking at their phone.

“Something we’ve seen more of is the intoxicated pedestrian,” he says.

“People are rightfully applauded for not driving while intoxicated, but as a pedestrian, you still have responsibilities — you have to be aware, or your friends should be aware on your behalf.”

Ford says he would like to see more efforts on the part of police to deal with distracted pedestrians.

“There are no laws right now for distracted pedestrians who are wearing earbuds or looking at their phones while crossing the street, which all of us see quite often,” he says.

“Many of the pedestrians and drivers we see on the street are not situationally aware at all. They have to be focused on what they’re doing because of the consequences. You could either kill someone or you could be killed.”

Ford says no one would go rock climbing, extreme skiing or play a contact sport wearing headphones because of the potential risks.

“But if you look at the statistics, the most dangerous thing we do is drive or walk around the city,” he says.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, the individual American driver's odds of dying as a result of an injury sustained in an automobile crash — including pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists — are about 1 in 77. This makes it one of the highest-probability causes of death tracked by the CDC, reports

According to the Preliminary 2016 Ontario Road Safety Annual Report Selected Statistics, there were 68,156 vehicles involved in fatal and personal injury collisions in Ontario in 2016. The same report shows that 483 people were killed that year in collisions.

Ford says to do those activities and not be aware “doesn’t make any sense at all.

“The incidence of injury is far higher for driving a car or for being a pedestrian than it is for sports,” he says. “Yes, you can get injured playing sports but typically it’s not life-threatening.”

Police, reports the CBC, suggest people consider the following:

  1. Never assume a driver can see you,
  2. Make eye contact with drivers before stepping on to or crossing a road,
  3. Cross only at controlled intersections and crosswalks,
  4. Avoid jaywalking,
  5. Wear light colours or reflective clothing,
  6. Avoid rushing into or crossing the street between vehicles,
  7. Do not rush on to the street for transit, taxis or ride-sharing services,
  8. Be alert at intersections,
  9. Ensure you have enough time to cross a street, and
  10. Avoid crossing the street while using devices that restrict your hearing.

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