In Toronto on Monday, councillors ordered a blanket reduction in speed limits from 40 to 30 km/h on local roads in the old cities of Toronto and East York. While this approach may make them feel better, it won't do much to improve road safety or reduce congestion. But, here's six ideas that might:
School and Playground Zones.
Ontario should introduce school and playground speed zone laws as other provinces have. In B.C., for example, speed limits are reduced to 30 km/h in school zones from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days. The speed limit near a playground is 30 km/h from dawn to dusk every day. This approach to speed reduction accomplishes two things. First, it makes sense to drivers so is more likely to be obeyed. Second, it requires drivers to have a greater situational awareness: what day is it, what time is it, where am I? This helps make them more likely to avoid an accident in the first place.
Keep Right Except to Pass Law.
Vehicles travelling on Ontario highways should be legally required to travel in the right lane, except when overtaking a slower vehicle or yielding to traffic entering the highway. In Germany, this produces a much more predictable traffic flow and helps reduce accidents.
Zipper Feed-in Law.
This simple law would keep traffic moving more fluidly and reduce driver frustration wherever two or more lanes merge into one, as happens routinely at Toronto's hundreds of construction sites. It works like this: drivers in both lanes move forward to the merging point and then take turns merging into a single lane. It's easy to understand and is the routine practice in Germany because it works.
Eliminate On-Street Parking on downtown streets and major arterials.
This would produce additional lanes for traffic (or bike lanes) and make it easier for drivers to see approaching pedestrians. The Parking Authority should build small off-street parkades every other block to provide as many parking spaces as were removed from the street within reasonable walking distance. A design competition could spark some very innovative, attractive solutions.
Ninety Minutes to Clear Standard.
Washington State and Florida are two of many jurisdictions that have adopted a 90-minute benchmark for clearing accidents on major highways. From the time first responders arrive at a collision, they have 90 minutes to secure the scene, extricate and transport victims, investigate the accident, clear debris, repair the roadway and re-open it to traffic.
Mandatory Driver Training.
It takes only a day or two driving around the GTA to realize far too many drivers are completely ignorant of the rules of the road. These drivers then teach their teenagers the same bad habits. The most important change, that would produce the biggest improvement in road safety, would be to make it mandatory to complete a properly certified, professionally-operated driver training program before receiving an Ontario driver's licence.
Modern driver training should include the type of "cockpit resource management" training pilots receive -- how to safely manage all the devices, instruments and options available in a modern car without becoming dangerously distracted. That's the real cure for distracted driving, not simplistic and over-reaching anti-cell phone laws.
If every Ontario driver had similar training, and we adopted these simple rule changes, our roads would be the safest in North America.
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If we can make a car that drives itself, why not make a car that can learn as it drives? Like something out of a sci-fi novel, these cars will be able to take and analyze data about you and predict where you’re going before you even point your front wheels in a particular direction. Not only that, but car companies are developing systems that maximize fuel economy and save power by monitoring all electrical systems.
In the near future, while cars monitor themselves, they’ll also be monitoring you. Drivers get behind the wheel distracted, tired or even impaired, and that can cause accidents. The University of Leicester is working on a system that uses LED lights to monitor whether a driver is distracted. This means that if the car decides the driver is distracted, it will take precautionary measures to keep the driver and others safe. This could include slowing down, pulling over or even refusing to start. Health-wise, cars will also be able to monitor your body’s vitals, and take action should a driver suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Cars have had airbags for decades — on the inside. The next step is external airbags. TRW Automotive, which develops safety technology, is experimenting with external airbags. The concept is that once a collision is detected (see smart cars), the bags would deploy prior to the collision, saving the car, the driver and pedestrians.
No, we’re not talking bigger gas tanks. We’re talking about turning the car into one big battery, storing either solar or kinetic energy across the entire vehicle. Several European companies are researching ways to turn side panels into extra batteries. The concept is that solar power or power generated by braking would be collected, stored, and used to charge a car’s batteries when needed.
Does anyone remember Knight Rider, with K.I.T.T. the talking car? (Did we just date ourselves?) K.I.T.T. helped fight crime and traded clever banter with his driver, but in the future, cars will talk to each other and to the very streets they drive on. Cars will share information about traffic, weather and even their distances from each other with the ultimate goal of increased safety on the roads. The technology hasn’t been fully deployed but cars in Ann Arbor, Michigan are currently road-testing the technology as part of a program run by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the University of Michigan.
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