Why is road safety so political?

Here at SafeDrives, we’ve been trying to reach out to municipalities to determine if they are aware of the crash-testing standards for safety mechanisms like guide rails being updated by the provincial government. It’s not something that has gotten a lot of media attention, and most municipal partners responsible for safety mechanisms simply say “they follow the province’s guidelines” — and that’s that. No need to go into any detail, right?

The problem is that road safety is highly political. Every year, statistics are released by police regarding the number of deaths and injuries inflicted on pedestrians by drivers. Parents and grandparents worry constantly about the safety of their children walking to school. This is why a lot of politicians are pro-road safety plans and campaigns that may help diffuse some of the most problematic causes of these accidents, including distracted driving and alcohol, for example.

But, there is one big thing these politicians don’t touch on — the need for better road engineering and safer road hardware. The safety mechanisms in Ontario are extremely out of date. Most of them don’t even follow the most recent standards, a 2006 document called the Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH). Instead, they follow a set of standards that was developed in 1991. The problem with these standards is that it only tests head-on collisions between a car and a guide rail, and that’s it. It doesn’t take into account other angles or different weights of vehicles. A lot has changed since 1991, including the weight and style of automobiles on the roads. If these mechanisms don’t work, they could seriously damage and/or kill the driver and other occupants of the car.

A lot of these mechanisms aren’t just below standard — they are actually poorly installed. Some are too high, too short, and some aren’t even structurally connected!

Things like road hardware aren’t sexy. No politician will get votes if instead of talking about the poor unsafe children crossing the street, they talk about the below standard guide rail that doesn’t protect them when mom and dad is driving. It’s not going to attract people’s attention. It’s not going to get you re-election.

That’s where bravery comes in. We’ve seen some city mayors stand tall and advocate for issues that may not get votes — tolls and taxes for example. SafeDrives is calling for more bravery. We need experts and politicians at a municipal level to take an active interest in the guidelines being imposed by the province. It’s not enough to just say “we are following standards.” Everyone should be aware of exactly what those standards are and what safety mechanisms do not follow them.

Road safety should be all-encompassing. The onus shouldn’t be on the driver 100 per cent. Accidents will happen, regardless of how prepared and safe you try to be. Cities in Toronto need to make sure they are doing everything in their power to make sure needless injury and death doesn’t befall drivers because a topic wasn’t sexy enough.

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