It is interesting how long past memories and experiences have an impact on how we currently view and experience life. Even if it is 60 years later. I don’t remember very well a boy named John Sanford. But growing up, I heard this boy’s name spoken by my mom numerous times. John was the 11 year old son of a neighbour who annually helped my dad with the potato harvest on our farm. One day John and his sister decided to ride their bicycles over to our farm to say hi to their dad. After stopping also at our farmhouse for some water, John and his sister were on their way home. They had just gotten down the road a few hundred feet when John was mowed down from behind by the driver of an automobile. He was killed at that very spot.
I was only 4 years old at the time so I don’t remember the actual day when John was killed. My sister Linda was four and a half years older than me, and she remembers it very well. John Sanford’s death affected my mom so much that us three kids were forbidden to ride our bikes on the road. My sister actually obtained her driver’s license and was driving a car before she was allowed to ride a bike on the road. By then she had no interest in cycling. My brother Allan was two years older and also had no interest in cycling when he was allowed to. Being the youngest, I was allowed to ride my bike on the road at fourteen. But with a lot of restrictions regarding how far and how long away. Mom really drilled it into me on “being extremely careful.” The freedom I felt riding that bike was absolutely incredible however.
Growing up, there was hardly any adults that regularly rode bikes in my area. The automobile was king. Bicycles were for kids. Because of the tragic death of John Sanford, I never really got to experience the thrill of riding a bicycle other than my driveway as a young kid. An article written by bicycle historian Ken Kifer called Cycling in the Sixties mentions that “Adult cyclists were a very rare breed during that period. Ninety-nine percent of bikes were sold to children, and it seemed that they would stay that way forever.”
In my childhood years, I only knew of one adult who ever rode a bicycle in the 1960s. His name was Pierre Laparde. He was a trainee at the Edgar Adult Occupational Centre and each day he would come to work for my dad on our farm. He looked up to my dad so much. Pierre was mentally challenged and would never be able to obtain a driver’s license. He rode his bike everywhere. It was equipped with a bike rack, a front basket, fenders, mirrors, a bell, an orange flag to be seen and was geared with a three-speed Sturmey-Archer internal hub gearbox. Pierre also had installed a generator that produced its own electricity to power a headlight and a taillight. When those wheels were turning, he had lights. For Pierre, his bicycle was his car. It was not unusual for him to ride that heavy steel bicycle fifty or sixty miles in a single day. As a kid, I looked up to him so much. I admired him for the independence he displayed, the challenges he overcame, and the freedom and simplicity of his lifestyle. Pierre did all his maintenance himself, and he was never, ever a slave to the gasoline pump.
Pierre’s cycling lifestyle made a significant impact on me. In the mid-to-late 1970s, my friends walked away from their bicycles when they got their own driver’s license. When I got my license and my own car, I must have had a lot of “Pierre” in me because I still rode my bicycle. A lot. Sometimes I would ride my bike to the store for bread or milk. Other times to hang out with friends I would ride instead of drive. There were other times I would ride my bicycle simply because I loved to ride. Sometimes I would bike commute instead of driving. Perhaps I also rode because I wanted to honour Pierre. Through my dad and others, Pierre eventually obtained enough life skills to manage on his own. A couple of times each year he would bike 40 miles from where he was then living for a one hour visit with my dad. After visiting with my dad he would then bike that same 40 miles back home. Despite always being super careful, and with every safety feature out there available installed on his bike, Pierre was mowed down from behind by the driver of a tractor trailer in 1974. He was killed instantly.
Each year the third Sunday of November marks the awareness day called “World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.” It is to remember all the John Sanford’s and Pierre Laparde’s who had their lives cut short before their time due to being killed by the driver of an automobile. The UN’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims is a global observance is to remember those who died or were injured from road crashes and the plight of their loved ones who must cope with the consequences of their deaths or injuries.
According to Guinness World Records the first person killed by the driver of an automobile was 44 year old Bridget Driscoll (UK). She received fatal injuries when she stepped off a curb to cross the road and was run over by a car. The car was giving demonstration rides in the grounds of Crystal Palace, London, UK on 17 August 1896. In a quite an interesting article in Moneyweek, it quotes a passenger who testified, “That the car was going “faster than any omnibus” she had ever been on, and it swerved to the right for no apparent reason, and hit poor Mrs. Driscoll.” The coroner said, “He hoped such a thing would never happen again.” Unfortunately the coroners hope did not come true. These days there are lot more cars on the road, which are being driven much faster. Every year worldwide 1,300,000 human beings die each year as a result of road traffic crashes. Every 24 seconds someone dies on the road. For each victim there is a family who will remain bereaved forever. Road traffic crashes are the eight leading cause of death globally.
The World Health Organization has listed some key facts related to road traffic deaths and injuries.
- Approximately 1.3 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes.
- The United Nations General Assembly has set an ambitious target of halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes by 2030 (A/RES/74/299)
- Road traffic crashes cost most countries 3% of their gross domestic product.
- More than half of all road traffic deaths are among vulnerable road users: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
- Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.
- An increase in average speed is directly related both to the likelihood of a crash occurring and to the severity of the consequences of the crash. For example, every 1% increase in mean speed produces a 4% increase in the fatal crash risk and a 3% increase in the serious crash risk.
- The death risk for pedestrians hit by car fronts rises rapidly (4.5 times from 50 km/h to 65 km/h).
A couple of websites that have have more detailed statistics as it relates to teen drivers, elderly drivers, distracted driving, drowsy driving, speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the economic impact of car accidents and more are Safer America and Compare Camp. It is an eye opener for me observing traffic as school crossing guard each day. Every hour between 700 and 1,000 cars, pickups, SUV’s and tractor trailers travelling Ontario Provincial Highway 93 will pass through my crosswalk in Hillsdale while I am on duty. I’ll get a nice sampling of every driver driving by. There might only be 1/100 drivers not paying attention at that given moment or driving visually impaired with a dirty, road salt smeared or fogged up windshield. Or 1/1000 drivers driving blindly while texting. Or 1/10000 driving stunting, or being erratic and extremely dangerous with a vehicle. All it takes is a couple seconds of not paying attention at that critical time for one driver and a disaster is going to happen. As crossing guard I’m constantly “reading traffic” to try to avert that, so a fatality does not happen at my crosswalk.
Roads have gotten so frightening, I seldom ride my bike anymore. Pickups, vans and SUV’s now comprise of 70% of North America vehicle sales these days. They are dominating our roads. A Freep Magazine article called “Death on Foot: America’s Love of SUV’s is Killing Pedestrians” mentions pickups, vans and SUV’s are twice as likely to kill pedestrians and have contributed to a 30% increase in pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2019. Ideally in a perfect world there would be no automobile deaths or injuries, but it is not a perfect world. The United Nations target of at least halving the global number of deaths and injuries from road traffic crashes starting in 2021 by the year 2030, is a huge undertaking. If it materializes it will make for a much better world.
Climate change is happening now. Wildfires are getting worse, flooding more common, hurricanes more powerful, and heat waves more deadly. Business Insider mentions that transportation accounts for 29% of all greenhouse gases produced in the United States. There is big talk about electric vehicles, but just replacing every personal vehicle with a battery-powered equivalent will produce an environmental disaster of its own. And it definitely won’t do anything to reduce the carnage we are witnessing on our roads. Because electric vehicles are much heavier (for example the Ford F-150 Lightning pickup will weigh about 1,600 pounds more than a similar gas-powered F-150 truck) and have a much faster acceleration, the assault on cyclists & pedestrians is going to be even more horrific.
Roads need to be designed keeping in mind the safety of all road users. This would mean making sure that there are adequate facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Measures such as footpaths, cycling lanes, safe crossing points, and other traffic calming measures can be critical to reducing the risk of death and injury among these vulnerable road users. I remember during the shutdowns during the pandemic when the roads were so much quieter. As a vulnerable road user, I felt much safer. So much so that in the month of January, 2021 I walked and ran 760 kilometers. Mostly of this distance was on roads. It was my best month in the year long challenge called A Great Canadian Running Challenge. I had never seen so many people walking in my village than during the shutdowns. As the weather improved, with quieter roads people committed to bike more. Bike shops could not keep any inventory. Bikes were selling out that quickly. Sadly, I have also noticed with the push to go “back to normal”, traffic has once again gotten extremely busy. A lot less people walking, and hardly any cyclists out anymore in my village. Pedestrians and cyclists shouldn’t need to take their lives in their hands each time they go out walking or riding. With climate change happening now and road fatalities continuing to increase annually, we need to significantly reduce our automobile trips and the number of vehicles on the road. On this World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims I remember victims like John Sanford and Pierre Laparde. And hope for a world where walking, cycling and transit use is emphasized over driving. People would be healthier, and their quality of life would improve. And many, many lives would be saved.