Toronto's deadly streets are most dangerous for seniors
Toronto police say people 65-and-older are killed at “staggering number” compared with younger pedestrians in the city.
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Every morning when she visited her family in North York, Foroughalsadat Abtahi — Fufu to her grandchildren — went for a walk. On Oct. 11, just minutes into her daily stroll, the 81-year-old woman was struck by a Toyota Corolla that jumped the curb, and she was killed.
It was a tragic shock to her family, both here and in her native Iran, as Abtahi joined the list of seniors who represent the largest age-group killed each year while walking the streets of Toronto.
“You never expect it to happen,” said Abtahi’s grandson, Ryon Dalir, an 18-year-old student at Ryerson University.
“It was devastating,” he said. “(Seniors) are probably the most cautious people out there… It’s saddening.”
In Canada’s biggest city, the words “elderly pedestrian struck” are familiar terms in police press releases. On Nov. 28, a 72-year-old man died after he was hit by a car on Bathurst St, according to police. In October, three seniors were killed in separate collisions over just three days along a single street: Eglinton Ave.
Shortly after, Abtahi was killed.
Const. Clint Stibbe, the Toronto Police Service’s traffic specialist, said people 65 and older account for roughly 60 per cent of pedestrian traffic deaths in the city each year — 80 per cent if you include people who are at least 55. “That is a staggering number for one demographic,” Stibbe said.
Older people are also more susceptible to injuries sustained from being hit by a car. A broken bone can take longer to heal, for example, and as Stibbe pointed out, for elderly pedestrians who are struck, “quite often the original injury is not what results in the person’s death, but the complications that arise from that injury.”
In response to a coroner’s report in 2012 on pedestrian deaths, the Liberal government at Queen’s Park brought in a new law to increase fines for drivers that don’t stop and yield the entire roadway to pedestrians when there is a crossing guard. That report found that 36 per cent of pedestrians killed in Ontario in 2010 were seniors, even though they account for just 13 per cent of the provincial population.
Marie Smith, a former president of the United Senior Citizens of Ontario, has appealed to the province and municipalities for further changes, including increasing the period of time given to pedestrians when they cross at intersections.
“The lights aren’t long enough for older people with walkers or even someone in a wheelchair,” Smith said.
“Everybody’s in such a rush that nobody stops to be careful anymore,” she added. “And they’re also on their cellphone or their iPad or whatever it is they’re doing, and they’re just not paying attention.”
Albert Koehl, a Toronto lawyer who pushed for the 2012 report and consulted with Smith’s group and several others, said he’d like to see the province push harder to make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. He said the vulnerability of seniors is “an obvious problem” that could be addressed by lower speed limits in the short term and better designed streets in the years to come.
“It’s shameful that so many seniors are dying without their being outrage at the city council and provincial level,” Koehl said.
Koehl pointed out that the 2012 coroner’s report recommended lower default speed limits on residential and arterial roads, while Toronto’s medical officer of health called for the same thing that year. He said he’d like to see the city follow Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and others that have lowered speed limits and set up photo radar to deter those driving too fast. A University of Alberta study from 2014, for example, clocked a 32.1 per cent decrease in fatal and injury collisions after the introduction of photo radar.
“It’s not something that should catch us by surprise,” Koehl said. “The default speed should be the safe speed.”
Meanwhile, Dalir said he hopes some lesson can come from his grandmother’s sudden and unexpected death.
“I don’t trust the drivers on our streets anymore. Maybe when I was younger but not anymore,” he said.