• speed cameras

Fine-by-mail for Speeding near Toronto Schools not Enough

If it was up to me, and the sign said 40 km/h and they were caught going 45 or faster, they wouldn’t get a letter

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald July 10, 2020
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Toronto’s 50 speed cameras are operational now and I say great. Bring on more, particularly around schools. Anybody speeding near a school should lose their licence, that’s how strongly I feel.

(Of course, typically Toronto, it’s all about the money. Never mind slowing down traffic so children don’t get hit by cars and killed. The city is more interested in what it can get out of wallets. But I digress.)

Parents tell their kids, as I told mine, look both ways before crossing the street. You never know. But kids are kids. Sometimes they get excited and forget (which is why we have crossing guards now).

So my daughter’s about seven, and home for lunch with me, and I kiss her as she leaves to go back to school and she runs across the lawn and right in front of a car on the road. Thank God the driver had seen her coming and was ready to stop, which he did. She burst into tears when she realized what had happened.

We tell our kids, when you are standing at a stop sign or a light, make eye contact with the driver so he sees you and then you can cross. I come driving along and I have to stop at a sign and a neighbour’s little girl is standing, kitty-corner, across the road in the subdivision where we live. She waits for me to come to a stop and she looks at me and then she steps off the curb and right into the path of a car coming along the through street.

She was so busy making eye contact with me that she forgot to look both ways. She might have been 10. There’s so much to remember when you’re just starting life. Again, the driver of the other car sensed potential disaster and had slowed down enough to stop. But it was close.

There is a school in my GTA neighbourhood. It fronts on a suburban street and backs onto a busy commuter road. There are flashing yellow lights on the busy road with a 40 km/h limit, 20 fewer than normal which most people ignore anyway. The police aren’t there with radar often and when they are, they stick out like a sore thumb. When they aren’t, it’s the Indianapolis 500. Some people slow down, but not many. We need a camera.

Childhood is a dangerous time. I’m sure we can all think of close calls we had when we were little. I can think of a couple of instances when one false move would have meant you wouldn’t be reading this. My palms can actually start to sweat when I think of one in particular.

But most of us get through it, somehow. Others aren’t so lucky.

In 1962, I was a cub reporter on my first newspaper. I’m not going to name the town, except to say it’s in Ontario. I’m doing this because this story is upsetting and there might be people around who would remember it.

A 17-year-old kid parked his car, a 1957 Chevrolet with an automatic transmission, across the street from the high school, which was at the top of a steep hill. He didn’t put on his emergency brake and he didn’t turn his wheels toward the curb, which is stuff you learn in driving school, although in those days his driving school was probably his dad.

When the driver’s side door didn’t close the first time, he hauled off and slammed it shut and that caused the stem-mounted gear lever to pop out of park and snap over to drive. The car started to roll down the hill with the kid, who was walking across the street to the high school when it started to move, running to catch it and yelling for anyone around to watch out.

A 12-year-old girl was walking along a cross street at the bottom of the hill. It is a beautiful sunny morning and it is Friday and the weekend is coming and she doesn’t have a care in the world. And she freezes when she sees this car coming and a guy running behind it, yelling.

In her panic, she then starts running and runs into the path of the car and she dies when it crushes her against the porch of a house on the corner. It is an absolutely awful scene.

One thing stood out: you’ve heard of superhuman strength? It exists. In a life-and-death emergency, with their adrenalin pumping like crazy, two 10-year-old little boys who were walking behind the girl pushed that huge car off her in an attempt to help her.

As you can imagine, the 17-year-old boy whose carelessness started all this was beside himself.

How do I know? I arrived on the scene about 10 minutes after it happened. It was the police photographer’s day off and I was a two-way newspaperman — a reporter who took photographs — so they asked me to take the pictures for the anticipated inquest: the girl under a blanket in front of the house, the gearshift in drive, and so on. In return for the favour, they told me everything.

I was very upset, as was everybody. To this day, I equate schools with children and disaster and I have no patience for drivers of cars who ignore signs telling them to slow down because there are children around.

And a monetary fine mailed to their house is not good enough. Not even close. If it was up to me, and the sign said 40 km/h and they were caught going 45 or faster, they wouldn’t get a letter. A police officer would go to their house and arrest them.

Norris McDonald is a retired Toronto Star editor who continues to write for Wheels under contract. He reviews the weekend’s auto racing every Monday at wheels.ca

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