Why do Toronto pedestrian accidents peak at the end of November?

A pedestrian trying to cross Kennedy Rd. at Eglinton Ave. E. was struck and killed October 20, 2013. JEREMY COHN/GLOBAL NEWS

This is the worst week of the year when it comes to Toronto pedestrians hit by motor vehicles.

The last few days of November see a dramatic spike in pedestrians being hurt and killed on Toronto’s streets. In the first 11 years of this century, November 30 was the worst day of the year; November 29 and 28 came second and third, respectively.

On an average Nov. 30, 11.5 Toronto pedestrians are hurt or killed in traffic – a month earlier, on October 30, that number is just 6.9. The daily average throughout the year is 5.3.

Of the 30 worst dates for pedestrians in an average year, 16 are in late November and the first few days of December.

(The safest days are, in order, Christmas Day, Canada Day and Boxing Day.)

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Global News obtained data covering 648,157 Toronto collisions between 2001 and 2011 from the city under access-to-information laws.

The pattern clearly has some relationship to lengthening darkness in the fall: Starting in September, pedestrian collisions rise steadily as darkness increases. The rate then falls somewhat around the winter solstice on December 21 or December 22. (In the data, Dec. 22 is the tenth-worst day for pedestrian collisions, and Dec. 21 is 30th.)

In late November, sunset slides toward 4:45 p.m., and evening twilight, the dying of the last bit of natural light, moves more and more into the afternoon rush hour, near 5:15. At the same time, the earlier part of the morning rush hour starts to be in darkness, as sunrise moves toward 7:30 a.m..

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So why do pedestrian accidents march upward with hours of darkness, but then fall starting in early December?

McMaster University geography professor Niko Yiannakoulias suggests the effect has two parts: Accidents rise with hours of darkness until chilly winter weather keeps many pedestrians off the sidewalks.

“You have two converging trends: First, it get less safe, and second, people stop doing it as much. When people don’t walk as much, that automatically reduces the frequency of injury. That’ s why you don’t see as much in January or February, because people right across the population, whether it’s children or adults or people over 65, in bad weather people tend not to walk as much.”

Toronto police time an annual safety campaign for November because of the spike in pedestrian injuries and deaths.

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By slowing traffic, winter weather cuts accident rates, explains Toronto Const. Clint Stibbe.

“We have more [pedestrian] accidents on clear, dry days. That’s when most of our fatalities occur. People seem to drive a little more cautiously, when we look at a sampling of fatalities, in poor weather or in rain. Last year, we only had one fatal collision on a snowy day.”

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