Thursday, July 21, 2016

Mr. Mercedes

(This week's Minden Times column)

Mr. Mercedes would wear a smile wide as a western horizon if he travelled Haliburton County roads this summer.

So many potential victims to choose from. Joggers, walkers, cyclists. All poised to be smacked down and become hood ornaments because of their own stupidity. Some walking with backs to the traffic. Others with their noses into their cell phones as cars and trucks roar toward them.

Mr. Mercedes is the villain from the Stephen King novel of the same name. He steals a 12-cyclinder Mercedes and drives it into a crowd of unemployed folks at an employment opportunity fair, filling the car’s grille with a variety of body parts.

Mr. Mercedes, thankfully, is fictional. The carnage of pedestrians and cyclists on our roads, however, is real. The numbers of people being smacked down and killed or maimed for life continue to grow.

Inattention is the main cause of these tragedies. Inattention by the victims, or the drivers. Sometimes both. A mere second of inattention can turn someone out for a pleasant morning walk into just another piece of road kill.

The number of pedestrians you see travelling the roads with backs to traffic is shocking. So are the number checking their phones as they walk or jog. Or, walking two or three abreast with buddies.

And, distracted drivers are everywhere. You see their vehicles drifting over the centre line or the right edge of the pavement as they check their cell phones.

Stephen King likely got the idea for Mr. Mercedes after being whacked during an afternoon walk back in 1999. A minivan hit him when its driver became distracted by his dog acting up in the back of the van.

King spent almost one month in hospital, had five operations and almost quit writing because he could not sit for more than 40 minutes at a time.

Accidents similar to King’s happen all the time in Ontario. Ninety-four pedestrians were killed on Ontario roads in 2014. That’s almost 20 per cent of all road fatalities in the province that year. The totals that year saw 3,617 pedestrians and 1,722 bicyclists injured or killed on Ontario’s roads.

Earlier this month Toronto police reported collisions involving 20 pedestrians or cyclists in less than 24 hours. Most did not involve serious injuries, but one man did die. Another died the following day when his bike ran into a vehicle.

Toronto, where driving, walking or cycling has become a madhouse experience, has seen roughly two dozen pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the first six months of this year. By year-end the city likely will have broken the record 40 pedestrian deaths set in 2013.

Walking, jogging or cycling our roads is wonderful exercise and a wonderful way to experience the outdoors. But it is dangerous if you simply step out onto the highway without thinking about how to ensure your safety.

Leave the cell phone or iPod at home. The wind in the trees and the birds singing are all the music that you need.

Wear light-coloured, high-visibility clothing, especially on those dull, cloudy days.

And walk facing the traffic. Why anyone would walk any road not being able to keep on an eye on the two- to three-ton mass speeding toward them is beyond my comprehension.

Pay attention to the oncoming traffic because there is a good chance that one or more of those drivers is not paying attention to you.

Also, some people might think that impaired walking is much preferable to impaired driving. They are of course right. However, drinking and walking or drinking and jogging are not the safest things to do.

Centres for Disease Control statistics show that 34 per cent of all pedestrians killed in U.S. traffic in 2013 had blood alcohol levels greater than 0.08 grams per decilitre. That’s the level considered for impaired driving in most jurisdictions.

Tipsy pedestrians apparently are a significant problem in parts of Europe. A year or so ago Spain was considering legislation forcing pedestrians to submit to breathalyser tests.

At any rate, it’s summer in cottage country and walking, jogging, cycling are all part of the enjoyment. Let’s just keep it safe.


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