Pedestrians in dark clothing should take some responsibility for their own safety

Toronto police are investigating after a pedestrian died in the parking lot of Dufferin Mall on Monday afternoon. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

City streets are dangerous places, especially for those of us not shielded by vehicles and forced to rely on the dexterous abilities of drivers and cyclists to keep us safe.

Completely undefended, pedestrians are left to pray, hoping no one does them accidental harm. They have no say in the matter, some would have you believe, and certainly should not be relied on to take steps to protect themselves.

Others would say such thinking is bunk, suggesting that pedestrians can't simply wait around for a chance to play the victim.

Take a recent spate of pedestrian collisions in Toronto, during which eight people were struck by cars in less than an hour.

Yes, drivers must been held to account and darkness plays a factor. But police in Toronto were not ready to let the pedestrians entirely off the hook. The culprit? Dark clothing.

Const. Clint Stibbe told CBC:

Wearing dark clothing on an essentially dark and rainy morning is no different than a dark and stormy night, you become less visible. … Something that makes you stand out when that light is shone on you from a vehicle could be the difference between life and death.

Let us commend Const. Stibbe for making an honest and direct statement of fact. No, he is not accusing the pedestrians of doing anything wrong, or letting drivers off the hook for their significant role in the collisions.

[ Related: Eight Toronto pedestrians hit in 45 minutes ]

But some onus of personal safety must be placed on our own shoulders. Beyond just following the rules and naively assuming everyone else will. Or some version of the rules.

Toronto pedestrians are notorious jaywalkers, darting across streets in Frogger-like fits of invincibility or jutting into traffic at intersections well after the walk sign has turned into a blinking red hand.

Toronto police routinely hold traffic blitzes targeting unsafe pedestrian habits, including the aforementioned jaywalking and the addiction to iPods and noise-cancelling headphones. Perhaps dark clothing should be added to that mix.

December and January are the worst months for pedestrian collisions. The sun sets earlier and rises later, leaving more time when pedestrians and drivers must travel in darkness. Poor weather on top of that can make visibility worse and vehicles harder to control.

Taking precautions, such as wearing reflectors or lighter clothing, could be the difference between catching that driver's attention and not. It could be the difference between blaming someone for your injuries and not being injured at all.

[ Related: Police crack down on Vancouver crosswalks, intersections ]

The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume takes an opposing view, suggesting it is a failing of Toronto police to consider blaming dark clothing for playing a factor in pedestrian collisions.

Hume goes so far as to compare it to a disappointing moment in Toronto police history, when an officer told women they should protect themselves by not dressing like "sluts".

"In both cases, the deep thinkers on the force must have realized that both statements revealed the police don't have a clue about what to do, beyond warning victims to be more careful," Hume wrote.

Try not to take this personally, Mr. Hume, but that is nonsense. Both points surround a choice of clothing and its effect on personal safety. But they are dramatically opposed to one another.

The officer who made the "sluts" comment was inferring that the choice of clothing somehow gave the aggressor a right, or at least a motive, to decide to do the women harm.

In the case of pedestrians, the officer's inference is that the choice to wear dark clothing actually takes away from the driver's ability to avoid doing harm.

[ Related: Pedestrian deaths dominate Vancouver traffic fatalities ]

One comment blamed the victim's clothing for the actions of another person. The other merely suggests a change of clothes as a way to avoid accidents. No one played the "sluts" card when pedestrians were told not to wear headphones.

Bright clothes won't save you if you are targeted or accidentally struck while walking down the sidewalk. But it might help avoid collisions at intersections, where all forms of traffic converge and most accidents happen.

Toronto police aren't accusing anyone of causing their own death or injury by wearing dark clothes, but they are suggesting we all take some personal accountability when it comes to keeping ourselves safe.

The deep thinkers on the force surely realize that, aside from posting a crossing guard at every intersection in the city, they must rely on pedestrians and drivers alike to do everything they can to avoid collisions.