airpods toronto

Police say people wearing AirPods in Toronto is a safety concern

Pedestrians continue to be killed on the streets of Toronto at an alarming rate, despite the efforts of city officials who've spent tens of millions of dollars in recent years on "Vision Zero" road safety plans.

A record-breaking 66 cyclists and pedestrians were killed by cars on Toronto streets last year alone. This year, 48 people have lost their lives in traffic collisions so far — 73 per cent of them "vulnerable road users," according to Toronto Police.

The subject of how to reduce and eventually eliminate such fatalities came up once again during a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday afternoon, where Police Chief Mark Saunders presented a proposed set of actions that could be taken by police in support of the City's new Vision Zero 2.0 program.

Overall, his recommendations were applauded. A comment made directly after the meeting to reporters, however, is being panned as "clueless," "embarrassing," and "dismissive of public safety."

"In scrum after police board meeting, talking about increasing complexity of keeping streets safe for pedestrians, Police Chief Mark Saunders includes 'the fact that we have people wearing AirPods,'" wrote Toronto Star journalist David Rider in a tweet that's generating much debate this morning.

Sales of Apple AirPods — those wireless white mini-speakers seen on every other TTC commuter right now — have indeed surged astronomically over the past year or so.

It's no secret that more people are wearing them than ever, but it's not as if pedestrians can hear things any differently while wearing headphones with cords, as they've already been doing for decades.

By blaming AirPods, even in part, for an increase in pedestrian deaths on Toronto streets, ​​​​​​Saunders has unwittingly waded into what some are calling "victim blaming" territory.

Putting the onus on pedestrians to keep themselves alive is a controversial stance to take in the "war" between cars and everyone else, and it shows in the replies to Rider's tweet.

First off, many on Twitter are pointing out that the majority of pedestrians killed by drivers in the city this year have been seniors.

"Not to stereotype, 'cause all ages enjoy music in their ears, but the huge preponderance of elder pedestrians killed trying to cross vast Scarborough thoroughfares in 'crossing deserts' were likely not wearing earbuds," noted one Toronto resident.

Others are calling the chief's comments ableist, noting that people with hearing impairments are every bit as vulnerable and deserve to be protected.

The good news is that, based on what he proposed at last night's Board meeting, Saunders does actually wants to crack down on bad drivers to improve pedestrian safety, significantly.

The police chief is recommending the creation of a new team of officers who would be dedicated solely to enforcing traffic rules in areas where the public is most at risk — something that isn't being done right now due to budgetary constraints.

The enforcement team, staffed by Toronto Traffic Services officers "on a call-back overtime basis," would focus on busting motorists engaging in what they call the "BIG 4" driving offences: Speeding, distracted driving, aggressive driving, and impaired driving.

Officers on the team would be "deployed strategically throughout the city to effect change in driver behaviour," and are intended to be both highly visible and proactive.

"There is a strong relationship between speeding, distracted driving, aggressive driving, and impaired driving in respect to collision probability and severity of injury," wrote Saunders in the report he presented last night.

"Aggressive driving includes following too closely, running red lights, speeding, street racing, driving too fast for road conditions and passing improperly."

TPS found that between 2013 and 2017, 52 per cent of all "killed or seriously injured" collisions within Toronto could be attributed, at least in part, to aggressive or distracted driving alone.

This backs a lot of what road safety advocates have been saying for years: That motorists need to take more responsibility for preventing road deaths. Not Apple.

Lead photo by

Lauren O'Neil

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