This was originally published in the newspaper The Metro on January 12, 2011, a neighbourhood weekly in Winnipeg. I chose the subject matter because it was closely related to the topic of my Master’s thesis, which was on errors in health care.
In 2010, there were 22 pedestrians hit by motor vehicles. 14 died, including Reg Blackbird on Christmas Eve. The number of fatalities in 2010 is higher than in the previous two years combined.
It’s easy to blame the driver. Driving too fast for the road conditions, failing to keep the car in good repair. But how many of those drivers got up in the morning, planning to kill someone?
More likely, the causes of these tragedies are multi-factorial. Accidents happen. When brakes fail, we call it mechanical. When someone is running late and takes a chance on a yellow light, we call it poor judgment, or human error.
Usually, though, these awful situations are a combination of many different things. Some are under our control, some are not. We can’t control weather and road conditions that make it difficult to stop safely. Poorly lit intersections and unmarked crosswalks can be factors. We may or may not be able to tune out distractions, like bickering children in the back seat or a rough day at work. And face it. Traffic patterns and construction are always issues in Winnipeg.
Have you ever stomped on the gas to turn left, only to notice at the last second that there was someone waiting to cross the street? Break down any accident into all the possible things that went wrong. You were in a hurry because you left late and you just realized your teenager left your gas tank empty. You are irritated, and now it’s raining and dark. You approach an intersection that you know has a very short light. You step on it. You misjudge the iciness of the road surface and lose control.
If any one of those factors was not present, the accident might not have happened.
Automobile manufacturers have taken extensive measures to reduce the possible causes of accidents. They compete to make the safest cars possible. The City has a significant part to play in making us safer as well. They are responsible for keeping the roads in good repair. They must ensure intersections are well lit, speed limits are appropriate, posted, and enforced (sorry, but you know it’s true). Overall, it is the City of Winnipeg’s responsibility to establish traffic patterns that are as sensible and conducive to safe driving as possible (challenge issued!).
The things that are outside our control, like the weather, still need to be accounted for. Drivers must plan well, allow an appropriate amount of travel time, and follow the rules of the road.
However, it is not only the drivers who are responsible when accidents happen. The City needs to examine every accident involving a pedestrian fatality, identify the factors for which it is responsible, and fix those problems to prevent future accidents.
Certainly, it will cost money to prevent car-pedestrian fatalities. What can’t begin to be measured is the cost of lives like Reg Blackbird’s, lost due to preventable accidents.