Toronto officials, police plead with drivers to slow down as new school year begins

·3 min read
John Tory, Toronto mayor and candidate for re-election, held a news conference with police, city councillors and TDSB representatives outside a Scarborough junior school to announce the new safety campaign. (Chris Mulligan/CBC - image credit)
John Tory, Toronto mayor and candidate for re-election, held a news conference with police, city councillors and TDSB representatives outside a Scarborough junior school to announce the new safety campaign. (Chris Mulligan/CBC - image credit)

Elected officials and police launched a road safety campaign Wednesday in a bid to get drivers to slow down and obey traffic laws as Toronto's streets fill with students heading back to school after summer break.

"Back to school is a very exciting time for children and families across our city and this year is extra special as we welcome the vast majority of students back to in-class learning. We want kids to be safe inside and outside the classroom," Mayor John Tory said. Tory is running for re-election in the upcoming municipal election next month.

"We're a major city, with millions of people sharing our roads and sidewalks and we all need to act responsibly. But I do want to be clear that drivers carry the greatest responsibility and have to take it extremely seriously when they get behind the wheel," he said.

Tory appeared alongside local city councillors and representatives from the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Police Service at a morning news conference outside Bridlewood Junior Public School in Scarborough.

The new campaign — which is being billed as an extension of the city's ongoing Vision Zero program — includes both an enforcement and education component, according to the city.

Toronto police will carry out an enforcement blitz through to Sept. 16, focusing on speeding, distracted, impaired and aggressive drivers, particularly in Toronto's 362 designated school safety zones.

The city is also posting "messages on safety around school buses, pedestrian crossovers, busy intersections and school safety zones." The messaging will appear on transit shelters, bus backs, billboards and in parking garages, as well as spots on radio and in newspapers, and social media ads.

"My plea to all drivers: please slow down and pay full attention," Tory said.

"The biggest responsibility must rest with the drivers of Toronto because you are in heavy powerful vehicles which can seriously hurt and even kill people."

The city also overhauled its school crossing guard program, with almost 800 now stationed at key intersections across Toronto.

Matt Moyer, acting superintendent of traffic services at the Toronto Police Service, said that this year alone, roughly 1,500 vehicular collisions have been reported within 100 metres of a school.

He said that traffic enforcement officers will not only be issuing tickets, but also speaking to drivers about the broader themes of road safety.

"It's one thing to give someone a ticket and say, 'Here's your ticket for going 74 km/h in a 40.' But more importantly sometimes is the message that goes with it," Moyer said.

"The message that says, 'Do you know what 74 km/h does to a child? Do you know what 74 km/h does to somebody who can't protect themselves? Do you know what 74 km/h does to a cyclist?"

While Tory took time to list measures Toronto has taken thus far to limit deaths on city streets — including the introduction of 50 automated speed cameras and pedestrian head start signals, as well speed limit reductions on some major roads — the wider Vision Zero effort has been criticized by safety advocates.

Some 58 people were killed on Toronto's streets in 2021, including at least 25 pedestrians. So far this year, 36 people have been killed in fatal collisions, 17 of whom were pedestrians.