Death In Retreat

A safety campaign becomes a national crusade as Canadian cities prove that deadly traffic menaces can be curbed

LESLIE GARDEN October 15 1939

Death In Retreat

A safety campaign becomes a national crusade as Canadian cities prove that deadly traffic menaces can be curbed

LESLIE GARDEN October 15 1939

Death In Retreat

A safety campaign becomes a national crusade as Canadian cities prove that deadly traffic menaces can be curbed


DEATH IS retreating from the highways along the Canadian front. Public education is the spearhead of the attack that is gathering momentum. Closer traffic supervision, stricter law enforcement and a stouter car chassis are aligned in support.

Not before time. Had the accident trend continued unchecked it would cost Canada over 6,000 lives and the blood of more than 90,000 injured people in the next four years. When highway fatalities move into ninth place among the causes of death, and when highway accidents assume proportions beyond computation in suffering and money, the time has come to turn upon the spectre.

Several provincial governments are following the lead of Ontario toward a scientific approach to the question. Ontario has been slowly weeding out drivers who are dangerous to themselves and to others through physical or temperamental handicaps. In that province the accidentreporting division has dockets on more than 300,000 of the 900,000 licensed drivers. The dockets record accidents, convictions and complaints. Such records enable discipline to be applied. When discipline does not work, licenses are cancelled.

Manitoba recently introduced a similar system, and in the Maritime Provinces and Alberta the authorities have power to cancel licenses.

Gradually the provinces and cities are coming to approach traffic control as a major problem w-hich will not automatically solve itself. Their approach is being made with the kid glove of persuasion on one hand and the iron mitt of punishment on the other.

Removal of incompetents from behind the wrheel before they get into serious mishaps; better still, preventing them from ever legally getting behind a wheel—these are objectives toward which our legislators are moving.

But, important contributions though they are, these steps will not solve the accident problem.

Arthur H. Row-an, statistician of the Ontario Motor Vehicles Branch, is a specialist in accident causes. “Most

people are reckless,” he says, “not with any degree of malicious intent, or because they have no regard for their own or others’ welfare, but largely because they have never been imbued with the true sense of responsibility.

“When a man begins to drive his car to and from work, he will show by his care that he is aware of his own inexperience in the presence of the many existing hazards. After a time he becomes sensitive because other cars are continually overtaking him. Where he used to cross an intersection at ten or fifteen miles, he will speed up to twenty-five or thirty miles. He will gradually come to the conclusion that his driving leaves nothing to be desired. Should he get into an accident he will argue that he has driven that way for a long time without a mishap.

“Such reasoning explains why many drivers see no reason for not driving after drinking, or operating a car with defective tires, brakes or steering mechanism—they’ve got away with it for a long time.”

It is by the education and supervision of such careless (not incompetent) drivers and their co-partners in destruction. the careless pedestrian and bicyclist, that communities in the United States have driven death back from their highways, saving the lives of 9,000 citizens between November of 1937 and June of this year. Despite a steadily rising auto mileage, Canada is beginning to show similar results, particularly in the urban centres.

Through the courtesy of their police chiefs, late accident statistics from nine larger Canadian cities were made available for use in this article. With few exceptions these accident returns from cities with an aggregate population of 1,622,000 people show an encouraging downward trend. To the end of August the cities between them have saved thirty-seven lives compared with last year’s toll—a drop of 33.33 per cent, or better than three lives in ten. Injuries decreased by over a couple of thousand.

The saving in lives and serious injury has been most marked in the centres where safety education has been lately intensified. Winnipeg, for instance, has established

what may be a world’s safety record for its population classification; certainly a North American record. This year in Toronto, where safetypropaganda is being extended, deaths to mid-September numbered thirty compared with fifty-five at the same time last year, and injuries had fallen by over two hundred in the same comparative period. Vancouver’s safety campaign was launched only in July, but a fatality drop of twenty-seven per cent is already shown.

Safety education is being stimulated in Toronto, Hamilton and London, with a resultant fall in deaths of forty-one per cent. But in Ontario as a whole, the improvement to the end of June was only 13.49 per cent. Thus the dormant centres and the rural areas, where supervision is less strict and education limited or absent, continue to present the traffic problem in its most acute form. This applies both to Canada and the United States. Where, as in Pennsylvania, super-

emphatic in the rural districts as in the cities, the scales are balanced.

Supervision, with its educational and punitive implications, is the primary cost of safety.

Safety programs vary widely in different Canadian cities. Toronto, for example, has the country’s only public traffic school. For some years this has been conducted successfully for the benefit of erring cyclists and motorists. When commission of a minor traffic breach is noted by a police officer, the offender receives from the chief of police a polite “invitation” to attend the school. These invitations are usually accepted, and many of the pupils have expressed gratitude for having their faults corrected before they landed themselves in trouble.

The Toronto Police Department recently organized a safety and accident prevention bureau which has launched a series of safety radio talks. Future plans include broadcasts in which drivers whose courtesy and care have been noted by the police, will receive publicity much more agreeable than that given those w-ho appear in the city courts.

Vancouver has gone even further in its check-up of minor offenders. There the general public have been enlisted as safety wardens. These volunteers are supplied with cards on which they report traffic infractions. Each voluntaryvigilante has á number which he fills in on the card when he forwards it to the chief of police. The chief, in his turn, sends a letter to the offender with an appeal for his co-operation in making the city safer.

This innovation is but part of the ambitious safety campaign now under way in the Pacific city. A traffic and safety council has been established, and, following the example of Winnipeg, a “deathless days” campaign was launched in July. Despite splendid co-operation from the press, radio stations, outdoor and street car advertising firms and others, July proved a black month, and six people met death on Vancouver streets.

The safety council was undismayed bythese reverses. Representing twenty-five of the city’s leading organiza-

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Death in Retreat

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tions, it was able to report thirty-six “deathless days” at this writing. The opinion of Edwin T. Orr, secretary of the council, is that schoolboy patrols for the protection of children at crossings, and the unofficial traffic observers, are the most important factors in the improvement of Vancouver’s record. Last year the city had thirty-four traffic deaths; the total to the end of August, 1939, was sixteen, compared with twenty-two at the same date in 1938.

Even allowing for the large difference in population, Victoria has had a much lower accident record than its bustling neighbor. To the end of August there were three fatalities—a pedestrian of ninety, one of seventy-seven and the other of seventy. No young child has been killed for many years, and no one at all met accidental death on the B.C. capital’s streets in 1938.

Victoria’s police department is very much alive wffien it comes to keeping others alive. This year an attractive, simply worded booklet containing traffic rules and regulations, was placed in the hands of every child over ten years old in all of the city’s twenty-one schools. As an impressive gesture, two uniformed police officers attended the schools with the books, and one of the officers gave a talk to the children. The books, of course, mostly found their way into parents’ hands.

Victoria holds a safety week right in the middle of its tourist season, a time of particularly heavy traffic.

“Here we have always prided ourselves upon our relatively small number of traffic accidents, and therefore this year we decided that to make our objective a week free from fatalities would be too easy a task for us,” says J. H. Rogers, acting chief constable. “We therefore set our ideal as a week free from all accident hospitalization. And we are proud to say we accomplished it!” Victoria has employed schoolboy patrols for a number of years.

An awakening safety conscience is evident on the prairies. The Alberta Government has appointed a safety council to cope with highway death and destruction from the angle of provincial education, engineering and supervision. In Calgary a safety committee is in the course of formation under the aegis of the Board of Trade, and similar committees are to be formed throughout the province. Calgary itself has not conducted even a brake-testing campaign since 1936, and its accident roll has been growing.

In Edmonton there has been a decided jump in fatalities this year, with the accident rate practically at a standstill. The police department of the Alberta capital each spring sponsors an “O.K. brake” campaign, while the Kiwanis Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce carry on a year-round agitation in the interests of traffic safety.

Acting Chief Constable M. Blackwood blames the local high accident rate chiefly upon careless drivers who fail to give the proper signals when starting, stopping or changing their courses.

“Speeders and drunken drivers, w'hile we do have some of them in Edmonton, do not present a very great problem.” he says. With over 7.000 bicycles registered, the traffic problem is complicated. Cyclists are usually guilty of riding three or more abreast, and being improperly provided with lights, thus adding to the danger of accidents.”

Edmonton employs street markings to show the portion of the road allowed to vehicles turning or passing straight through at intersections, and it has found them valuable in reducing intersection accidents.

There is an air of calm and justifiable superiority about the report of Martin Bruton, chief constable of Regina:

“We had one fatal automobile accident in Regina up to the end of August this year; one during the same period in 1938; and none in 1937.

“We have very few serious automobile accidents in this city, and we attribute our excellent record in this respect to the fact that we have a speed limit of fifteen miles an hour which is enforced in a reasonable manner. Precautions for safety are observed all the time, and it has therefore never been necessary to put on a special accident-prevention ‘drive.’

“Our citizens as a whole are perfectly satisfied with the enforcement of our speed law, and co-operate by observance of safety regulations. Our last two fatalities were caused by drivers of automobiles who came into the city from outside points.”

Winnipeg's Great Record

TO A prairie city belongs the most spectacular safety record established by any larger North American centre since traffic became a problem. By going 228 consecutive days without an accident death on its streets, Winnipeg hit a mark that shows what can be done by an inspired community.

Back in 1936 Winnipeg became alarmed at the way its street traffic fatalities were mounting. Apart from humane considerations, the highest personal liability insurance rate in Western Canada was not good business for the city. Confronted with a growing traffic problem, other cities had found a remedy in heavily increased police forces. Detroit had cut its traffic deaths by fifty-two per cent at the cost of 200 additional police. Milwaukee, about the size of Toronto, has twice as many traffic police as the latter city; last year it had only a quarter of the traffic deaths. Winnipeg, its population a third of Milwaukee’s, was averaging over a score of deaths a year. In 1938, a comparatively “low” year, it registered nineteen fatalities compared with Milwaukee’s seventeen.

Winnipeg’s difficulty wras that police have to be paid. The prairie city was short of money. Faced with its problem, however, it showed it had a capacity for community co-operation not always possessed by cities with bulging coffers.

An advisory traffic commission was appointed, with the job of co-ordinating the three functions relative to the traffic problem—engineering, enforcement and educational. This was a community question, and the commission was representative of the community. Lending their services were nominees of the city council, the provincial government, the motor league, the Board of Trade, the city engineering and police departments, the street railway system and the pedestrians.

The pedestrian composes the largest traffic death group, passengers, drivers, bicyclists and motorcyclists following in that order. However, there was no irony intended when Winnipeg walkers selected the city coroner to represent them on the commission. In all respects, including walking, Dr. II. M. Speechly was well fitted for the job. And also to become first commission chairman, as he did. The coroner is one of those vital community leaders who find time to malee a success of a dozen public chores, putting zest and color into them all.

It was characteristic of Dr. Speechly to launch a safety drive, not with a mere reduction in accidents in view, but with a dramatic aim—three months of deathless days was the first objective. When that goal was reached, it was moved on to six months. A deathless 1939 w'as the objective when the record crashed with a motorcycle side car rider on the night of June 27.

But that did not happen before Winnipeg had established a North American record for cities of over 100,(XX) population.

The American National Safety Council’s method of computing safety performances on a population basis gives Winnipeg— population 222,000—50,616,000 “deathless man-days.” In 1938, Providence, Rhode Island, won the Safety Council’s Grand Award for all American cities of whatever size with 28,372,000 days to its credit. This was an all-time record, but away behind the performance of the Canadian city.

The traffic commission had built from the ground up.

How Winnipeg Did It

ACCIDENT incidence was studied - over a period of years, and the city council co-operated in the removal of hazards wherever practicable. Dangerous curves were rounded and extended. Relief works money was put to widening streets that traffic had outgrown. If widening was not expedient, such streets were classed as one-way thoroughfares where possible. Traffic signals and safety loading zones were increased, as were streets where parking was completely prohibited.

The perambulating pedestrian broke the law if he crossed certain streets except within the limitsof the crosswalk, or if he crossed against the light.

Toward the close of 1938 the commission had laid the foundations for an education campaign strident enough to catch the attention of the dullest citizen. In November, window cards appeared urging “Care, Courtesy and Common Sense,” and reminding the passer how “One thoughtless mistake may mean death.” The “deathless days” campaign was launched, and bill boards, electric signs, the radio, the pulpit and the press were enlisted to give it ocular and verbal force.

Those entering and leaving the downtown section saw large white flags flying as a daily reminder that the campaign was on. At the bases of the flagpoles, located at Portage Avenue and Main Street, and in the Mall, were numerals which were changed every morning to show how many days had passed without a traffic death. For twenty-four hours the white banners were replaced by black flags after the fatal crash of June 27. Thrice since then they have gone aloft as a grim reminder that death stalks the unwary in these days of bustling traffic.

The school board lent its hearty support to the campaign, and probably the most impressive publicity of all was provided by the school safety patrols. Every weekday 500 of these boys were to be seen going to and from school wearing smart white Sam Browne belts.

The patrols did invaluable work in herding younger children across intersections. But they also made, and still make, other substantial contributions to the city’s safety. Among activities of members that have come officially under notice are cases where boys have thrown younger children out of vehicular danger, have reported drunken drivers to the police, have called attention to bumper riders and coasting cyclists, and have cleared busy streets of playing tots.

There was lots of other community support. The Tribune newspaper and the Board of Trade gave daily prizes to people selected for careful driving. The same journal “candid camera'-ed” drivers at such risky antics as cutting in, and walkers weaving their way through traffic. These pictures were published! Business firms co-operated to air various angles of safety in full-page newspaper spreads. The service clubs were in the campaign up to their necks, like the churches and the Boy Scouts.

Free traffic lanes for the testing of mechanical equipment were a feature of the drive. Plenty of out-of-focus headlights and faulty brakes were located, while some drivers were startled to hear they were courting disaster with broken spindle bolts and badly worn steering rods.

Winnipeg has reduced its death toll greatly, but it feels that it has only started to make its streets safe. Based on the

experience of 1939. it is now planning a campaign that it hopes will give it a deathless 1940. “If 228 days, why not 365 days?” they ask. It seems a reasonable question.

Education Plus Enforcement

OF ALL classes in the community the police are the most closely in touch with the traffic problem. They seem unanimous that education in its many ramifications, combined with strict law enforcement, is the solution.

In Hamilton seven people have been killed this year compared with seventeen in 1937, and accidents have fallen from 844 to 490. “We attribute the decrease to the education of the public through the press and by social clubs, also the severe penalties inflicted for infringement of traffic rules,” reports Chief Constable T. A. Brown.

Since 1937 London, Ontario, has halved its death rate, and W. H. Down, chief constable, says: “The real remedy for the accident problem lies in the instruction and education of all road users as to their duties and obligations to one another and to the community as a whole.”

Canadian cities are demonstrating that lives can be saved and the wastage of suffering and property greatly reduced. Indications are that these communities will enlarge and intensify their efforts as time goes on, and that others will be aroused from their apathy by the force of example—and results.

Extension of intensive propaganda and supervision to the rural districts is a job that eventually will have to be shouldered either by the federal authority or by the provincial governments. Only when this job is also tackled with determination can Canada expect to reduce highway destruction to its possible minimum.