Speed enforcement is a quality of life issue

So it looks like we might get some photo radar in Ottawa. After much work by municipal politicians, the province has stepped up and decided that they’d allow municipalities to implement this eminently sensible technology.

Well, sort of. In school zones or community safety zones (whatever those are). I mean, let’s not get carried away here. People need to speed, right? Like, it’s really important.

I’m glad that we are going to get (limited) photo radar (or automated speed enforcement, or whatever we need to call it to make it more palatable to toxic driving culture). I think there are problems with the way they’ve legalized it, but baby steps, or something like that.

Naturally, those who want to speed are a little ticked off. They question why we need it. Thankfully, there are stats on this. Over the last five years, there have been something like 900 accidents in school zones during daytime hours. There have five kids hit by cars outside their schools (and more hit on their way to school…though whether that counts as “community safety zones”, I can’t tell you). So the stats bear it out.

But look, we shouldn’t need all these stats. Yes, there are accidents we need to prevent. Yes, you’re more likely to die when you’re hit by a car going 50 km/hr than one doing 40. This is all true, but safety isn’t just a safety issue.

It’s also a quality of life issue.

You shouldn’t be fearful walking out your door. You shouldn’t be fearful walking around your neighbourhood. You shouldn’t be worried that cars whipping around your community at 50 or 60 km/hr will take out your kids as you walk to the park.

It is stressful walking along so many of our streets. It is stressful trying to cross fast, dangerous streets. It is aggravating and exhausting trying to negotiate traffic and all the dangerous, aggressive driving out there. It’s insulting that your life is valued less than traffic.

Livable, walkable streets make our lives better. People with mobility issues need to be able to get around. People walking children have things to do. People should not be forced into a constant state of hyper vigilance because we as a society won’t get off our ass to try to actually make some safe streets…worse, because we as a society actively choose to design and build dangerous infrastructure.

This isn’t a call for pedestrians to be able to walk around without paying attention to what others are doing. This is a call for street safety that lessens this burden on pedestrians as much as possible.

No doubt, the one of the greatest things better speed enforcement can do is to keep some child from being rushed to hospital…or the grave, but we need to acknowledge and value the little ways livable, walkable cities make our lives just that much better.

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Football, facemasks and making sense of safety

It’s Sunday, so I will spend a few hours today watching football. It’s been a part of my fall Sundays for decades. But as much as I enjoy watching football, I understand the moral complications of following the sport. There are injuries, horrendous injuries. It causes lifelong disability, mental illness, neurological damage. It ruins lives and families. It has led to, directly, to suicides. And the leagues have not always been honest about the risks, nor have they done all they can to mitigate them. They’re getting better, it would seem, but it’s still a dangerous, dangerous sport.

Football has always been dangerous. It’s a violent sport. Physical contact and collisions are in its DNA. When people first started playing, there were no shoulder pads, no helmets. Eventually, players started wearing protection. There were leather helmets, at first, then hard plastic helmets. Now, there are helmets specifically designed to lessen the risk of concussions.

And there are facemasks. The first facemasks were single bars, but they’ve grown more elaborate. Players now wear full cages, often with visors. It all makes sense, right? You don’t want to lose teeth. You don’t want to be poked in the eye.

Years ago, I watched a report on player safety. This was back in the 80s or 90s, so player safety wasn’t that much of a concern. A football analyst was being interviewed, and he noted that the facemask was the biggest amplifier of violence in football. The facemask has led to more and more injuries.

He noted that players, with the protection of facemasks, were now taught to lead with their faces while tackling. Whereas in the past, players were tackling with arms and shoulders, now they’re tackling leading with their heads.

I was taught this in minor football. I was told that as a defender, I had three weapons, three points with which to hit the ball carrier, my head and two shoulders. (Other coaches were a little more responsible; they taught to hit with your shoulder…though you’d still bring your head across the front of the ball carrier).

If you watch football today, you’ll see this. Tacklers leading with their heads and faces. Lineman crashing into each other face-first. Heads and necks take a lot of abuse. Concussions and spinal injuries result. Players are less concerned about collisions to both their own head and their opponents’ heads. It’s not necessarily malicious; it’s a natural human response. More risks can be taken when more safety measures are in place.

So the next time someone says that it makes no sense that bike helmets lead to more injuries, tell them to plop down and the couch one Sunday afternoon and watch a football game.

Street safety for me but not for thee

I saw an ad for the Kia Forte this morning. Apparently called Talent Show, it was hawking the Kia’s emergency breaking detection system. Basically, Kia was saying, look, we know everyone’s a shitty driver and none of us really pay attention to what we’re doing, so we developed this technology to keep you from killing people.

(Just kidding about that last part. From the ad, the technology is there so you don’t smash up your pretty new car.)

The ad reminded me of this story about Transport Canada mandating back-up cameras in new cars. This new regulation seems wise, but it also concerns me that we’re just going to use technology to replace driver competency (which might be fine in driverless cars, but we’re not talking about driverless cars here).

I’m going to put aside my fears that we’re breeding really dangerous drivers, for now. Let’s ignore any possible unintended consequences and assume that these developments in technology and regulations will help protect us from the inherent dangers of people driving cars.

If so, why the hell don’t we take the same care in making sure all street users are protected from the unavoidable threat that is the Canadian driver? Why don’t we mandate safer streets, rather than back-up cameras?

Of course, there are reasons we do this. None of them reflect well on our society.