The rules of the road change today and, with any luck, they may highlight Toronto’s need for improved pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
The province has updated its fine schedule to include set fees and demerit points for some of the most egregious driving infractions.
If you are reading this in your car, for some baffling reason, you may want to pull over:
The set fine for distracted driving is now $490 and three demerit points. If you’re a novice driver, it’s an automatic 30-day suspension.
The advocacy group Cycle Toronto has called these changes a win, as they include steep penalties for “dooring” cyclists and the long sought-after one-metre rule.
The penalty for passing a cyclist without allowing a minimum distance of one metre is indeed a huge win for cyclist safety. The penalty is $110 and two demerit points, $180 if you’re in a community-safety zone. It’s also going to cause a lot of headaches, I predict, if properly enforced.
These headaches are necessary, however; think of them as growing pains. On many crowded Toronto streets, lacking as they often are in meaningful cycling infrastructure, a real crackdown on violators of the one-metre rule would be eye-opening.
Ideally, citizens and politicians alike will realize that many of our streets are dangerous for cyclists, by design. It is easy to imagine situations within the city where safely passing a cyclist with the proper one-metre space is extremely difficult.
Then we get to have a conversation about how we can redesign our streets so everyone can get where they’re going, safely, without these headaches. Cyclists don’t get off so easily, either.
The new penalty for riding without proper lights is $110, commuted down from a whopping proposed $500, due to advocacy from groups like Cycle Toronto.
These fines are well meaning enough. Coupled with reduced speed limits on residential streets in East York, there have certainly been major, recent strides in the level of enforcement for the sake of safety.
Still, let’s not take our eyes off the real prize.
The city is still considering adopting Vision Zero policies, already in place many
European and American cities, which hold that no number of traffic fatalities is acceptable.
Vision Zero also puts emphasis on designing roads in a way that reduces reckless driving and simple human error.
There will always be a few people who feel they’re above the law or truly believe they can get away with any number of careless infractions.
Fines are all well and good, but when street design necessitates safer driving, then we’ll really see some marked improvements in safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
Glyn Bowerman is a Toronto-based journalist and theatre artist. He is also a regular contributor to Spacing Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Banquos_Banquet