Toronto road safety

Study shows Toronto drivers don't properly scan for pedestrians

New research on how people allocate their attention while driving suggests that more than half of Toronto motorists fail to properly look out for pedestrians — and the more familiar they are with any given road, the less likely they are to see someone they could potentially hit.

Researchers from the University of Toronto's Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering set out earlier this summer to track the eye movements of drivers following a rash of fatal cyclist and pedestrian collisions on Toronto streets.

Using state-of-the-art eye-tracking equipment, researchers say they were able to "accurately assess where drivers were looking" when turning onto a busy city road.

All 19 of the participants studied had more than three years of driving experience, were between the ages of 35 and 54, and completed right turns at Palmerston Avenue from Bloor Street, and at Major Street from Bloor Street.

"Both locations required drivers to safely turn right across a dedicated cycling lane along Bloor Street," reads a press release issued by U of T on Thursday.

"Eleven of the 19 drivers failed to gaze at an area of importance, where cyclists or pedestrians would be located, before turning," the release notes. "Attentional failures were more likely for those who drove more frequently in downtown Toronto."

The sample size was small, to be certain, but the results of the study suggest that — as many in the city have noted — changes to traffic infrastructure are needed to improve traffic safety.

"I don't think it’s an education issue," said U of T's Birsen Donmez, who supervised the research and is Canada Research Chair in Human Factors and Transportation.

"When you look at the bike lanes in the city – they appear over here, but disappear there – the more unpredictable the road rules are, the more challenging it is."

She noted that drivers should be careful to make frequent over-the-shoulder checks until infrastructure can catch up with how citizens use our roads today.

“The takeaway for pedestrians and cyclists: Drivers aren't seeing you. Not necessarily because they're bad drivers, but that their attention is too divided," she said.

"When crossing a street, your assumption should be that the car doesn't see you."

Lead photo by

University of Toronto


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