Saskatoon·Opinion

Drivers often entitled and distracted — and that's no fun for pedestrians

You need a licence to drive. It’s a privilege, not a right. But the pedestrian ends up being the second-class traffic citizen, simply for having the gall to be on foot. 

Being a pedestrian should not involve ‘taking a walk on the wild side’

Pedestrians help a man who uses a wheelchair cross the street after a snowstorm in downtown Vancouver on Jan. 15, 2020. (Jesse Winter/REUTERS)

I've never been one for physical activity, but when I feel like I'm more beer and cheese than man, I try to spend more time exercising and less time lying on the couch. The problem is, I'm risking my life with my preferred form of extreme fitness: walking outside.

I went for a walk a few weeks back and was almost hit by a car. I was in a marked crosswalk with the right of way. I heard the anti-lock brake system of the car kick in as it skidded to a stop in front of me, close enough to spray me with snow. I threw my arms up in shock and fear and gave the driver my best, "Ay! Ah'm walken here-yuh!" 

He rolled down his window and shouted something about me being a, "stupid idiot for walking," and that he was, "20 feet away from me," so to, "quit being a baby." 

I felt bad for him, since having a cognitive spatial disorder must wreak havoc with his life. I mean, how can you even drive a car if two feet looks like 20 feet? Imagine how far the poor guy thinks he can throw a football. 

More than a dozen pedestrians killed in 2018

Unfortunately, this day was not an isolated incident. With a family history of widow maker heart attacks and a baby daughter and young son I'd love to watch grow up, I've been dedicated to walking for a while.

And I am almost hit by a car at least once a week.

Drivers are often entitled and distracted. In 2018 in Saskatchewan, 15 pedestrians were killed and 214 were injured. The scary thing is, usually my wife and kids are with me. 

A couple is seen traversing the Yonge and Dundas intersection during a snow storm in Toronto in a March 1, 2016, file photo. As the number of pedestrian deaths continues to climb in Canada's most populous city, politicians and police are trying to address the issue (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Safe walking isn't just the responsibility of pedestrians

When I complained about this on Twitter, they told me pedestrians need to make eye contact with the driver when crossing. Sure, that's sound advice. But while I recognize that innocently walking down the street somehow makes me party to a complex and life-threatening system, I don't think the onus should be solely on the pedestrian. 

You need a licence to drive. It's a privilege, not a right. But the pedestrian ends up being the second-class traffic citizen, simply for having the gall to be on foot. 

So nevermind what pedestrians can do; what should drivers do?  

  • Slow down, Vin Diesel – you're not going to get there early if you're so fast and furious you're in prison for manslaughter.
  • Drive for the conditions: if you've ever curled or skated, you know ice is slippery (and if you haven't curled or skated, do you even live in Saskatchewan, bro?).
  • Some of you may have noticed stop signs: their name hints at what you're supposed to do. It's actually a pretty neat system.
  • In many of my close calls, there's a phone in the driver's hand. You should be hung by your typing fingers until the sound of unanswered notifications drives you mad.
  • This may sound obvious, but watch where you're going. When many drivers are turning right, they look left to make sure there's no one coming at them. Then they proceed, while still looking left, faced away from the direction they're driving. They don't see the crotchety writer pushing a baby stroller into the intersection.
Pedestrians walk through a snowstorm in Ottawa in January 2019. (CBC)

Cue the online backlash of entitled drivers saying, "Hey, if you don't like dying, don't leave your house!" I'd also expect backlash if this was just a recipe for butter tarts -- because that's who we are now -- but do I really have to wear an armoured Iron Man jogging suit? I just want to better my health and model for my children that exercise isn't stupid (exercise is stupid, but whatever). 

This isn't an anti-car rant. I'm also a driver. In fact, I'm so famously lazy I drive to the store that's 30 seconds from my house. I'm not without my share of bonehead moves or tickets. But I also recognize that I'm driving a motor vehicle, thousands of pounds of plastic and metal, hurtling down the street, at the very whim of my attention and reflexes. I don't use the phone while I'm driving. And it's silly, but I try to look the direction the vehicle is headed.  

Let's make a promise together to give a bit of care when we're behind the wheel. It might save a life. Selfishly, I need to stay alive if I'm going to watch my kids grow up and keep my appointment with that massive heart attack. 


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About the Author

Craig Silliphant is a writer, editor, critic, broadcaster, and creative director based in Saskatoon. Follow him on Twitter @craigsilliphant.

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