Traffic Education

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Well, I guess I asked for it. After wondering where winter went, up it came. Cold temperatures and a decent layer of snow made for slippery conditions today. The weather promises to be snowy and blustery throughout the week. I’m confident that, by the end of the week at least, I’ll be longing for spring.

My father picked the kids and I up this morning for our Saturday morning tradition of going out for breakfast. As we were driving down a road without a sidewalk, I looked ahead and warned my father about a pedestrian who was walking ahead of us. He was on the right side of the road, walking with his back to us. I told my father to watch out for him, but he’d seen him at the same time.

We both agreed that the pedestrian had taken a fairly major risk. And that’s when Vivian piped up. “Why?” she asked. And I explained: when there are no sidewalks, pedestrians should always walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic, so they can see the cars coming.

This seemed logical to Vivian, but it still surprised me, because it seemed like news to her as well. “Wait a minute,” I said, “hasn’t there been a police officer to your school to tell you about this?”

Well, turns out there was. But the police officer had talked about other aspects of safety — what to do about strangers, that sort of thing. And I believe there was some traffic safety as well, but the rule that if you are on a road where there are no sidewalks, you should walk facing traffic didn’t come up. Even though such a rule had been burnt into my father’s mine and my own by visiting traffic cops at our own schools.

This may illustrate a couple of things, like the fact that thirty-four years ago, it was not unusual for me to walk down the street to go to school, or possibly the corner store. We can’t fathom doing that today to our kids. So why teach them this rather esoteric bit of traffic safety when, really, the kids probably aren’t going to be going anywhere without a parent or a teacher being within lunging distance?

But what’s even odder, now that I think about it, is that my father and I got the instruction to walk facing traffic on roads without sidewalks, even though we both went to school in downtown Toronto. Where the nearest road that didn’t have any sidewalks was the Gardiner Expressway. So why were we taught what we were taught?

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