Deconstructing a Car Culture

Anger is rising on our streets and we seem to be moving into another year of "us versus them" when it comes to our roads.

As a lawyer representing victims and their families for the last twenty-five years, I have had a disturbing front-row seat to road violence in our city. I have had the unfortunate privilege of being able to access information and evidence about the causes and consequences of crashes involving people on bikes, in cars, or simply walking.

Unlike many others (including the police and politicians) I examine the drivers under oath. I have access to all the crash data from the vehicles, my engineers analyze and reconstruct crash scenes, and my private investigators obtain witness statements and video evidence. I find out if charges are laid, what convictions are rendered, and what penalties are handed out. Sadly, I witness just how devastating these crashes are on the victims.

From my perspective, safe streets will never happen unless politicians and the driving public change what is a "car culture."

From my perspective, safe streets will never happen unless politicians and the driving public change what is a "car culture." A culture based on principles that have little or no foundation. They are created so that we can accept (and digest) the volume of death and serious injuries that happen yearly on our streets.

These "car culture" principles continue to exist. They include:

  1. Car Accidents happen and generally, no one is to blame.
  2. Excessive speed is dangerous but speeding itself is not.
  3. A driving license is a right, not a privilege
  4. Streets are for cars.

Even though none of these are true, they are accepted as by most. The simple truth is, that we as Canadians don't take the issue of road violence seriously. We value life and we promote safety, but for some reason, if the violence arises from someone behind a wheel, we chalk it up to just another accident.


There are no accidents. All crashes involving vehicles are preventable. I did a case where a young girl was killed on her bike. The crash was caught on video. There was no doubt from watching it that the driver of the car that struck her was traveling more than the speed limit [15 km over]. Despite it being captured on video, the comment by the police as to why they would not charge was that "these things happen." That was not an unusual response. When I represented various organizations during the Coroners Review into Cycling Deaths, statistics showed that most cyclists killed were at hands of a driver that broke the law. Despite such, very few were charged (oddly enough, the review no longer is accessible on the Ontario Government website. If anyone is interested in the findings it can be accessed here.

The conclusion by the Coroner was that all the deaths were preventable. There are no accidents.


Speeding is dangerous when it involves moving two tons of steel. Even small increments over the speed limit can have deadly consequences. During the Coroners Review into Pedestrian Deaths, Coroner Lauwers stated "speed kills is an escapable fact." He cited statistics that show a pedestrian hit at 50 kilometers an hour is five times more likely to die than being hit at 30 kilometers an hour. He urged in his recommendation that all residential speeds be lowered to 30 kilometers per hour and the default limit for all other roads be set at 40. Even if we did implement these limits, if they are never enforced then they are meaningless. The sad reality is that when they design our roads, they factor in that people will travel in excess of the speed limit. But just because it is "acceptable", does not negate the fact higher speeds result in higher death rates among pedestrians. Speed cameras reduce speeding, reduce collisions, reduce the severity of injury, and reduce deaths. Unfortunately, there is little or no political will to put them on every corner.

"Right to a Licence"

No one has a right to a driver's license. The law states, "the privilege of driving on a highway is granted to, and retained by, only those persons who demonstrate that they are likely to drive safely." (Highway Traffic Act, section 31). However, seldom does anyone ever lose their license despite bad driving. Hitting someone while speeding is not driving safely. Touching your iPhone while driving, is not driving safely. Killing or hurting someone after you have broken a law under the Highway Traffic Act proves you have not demonstrated that you are "likely to drive safely".

Three private members bills were placed before Ontario Government requesting a new law be passed. The law simply asked that at a minimum before a convicted bad driver (that kills or seriously hurts someone) gets back behind the wheel that they take a driving course. All three times the law was shot down. In fact, we have almost no laws that automatically revoke licenses. I have had a number of cases where repeat offenders get back on the road and kill people. Revoking a driver's license simply does not happen and no one is treating driving as a "privilege."

"Streets are for Cars"

It doesn't have to be "us vs. them" when it comes to how we choose to get around, we all deserve the right to safe passage.

I keep hearing "streets are for cars". This is simply not true under the law. Although this may be the understanding of certain politicians and the driving public, our laws indicate that the streets are to be designed, repaired, and kept so as to provide safe travel for all users. Justice Moldaver, speaking for the Court of Appeal in Johnson v. Town of Milton, held that our roads are designed for all users including cyclists, and "must be kept in such a reasonable state of repair that those requiring to use it may, exercising ordinary care, travel upon it with safety." The first and foremost recommendation by the Ontario Corners office after completing over a year-long review of pedestrian and cycling deaths was that all governments should build and maintain our streets for all road users. The concept is called "Complete Streets". Infrastructure that ensures safe passage is granted to those in cars, those walking, and those on bikes. Unfortunately, our streets remain not only incomplete, but unsafe.

Our politicians must move away from a "car culture" mentality and begin to design roads and create laws that are in place to provide protection for all road users. It doesn't have to be "us vs. them" when it comes to how we choose to get around, we all deserve the right to safe passage.

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