A fascinating letter about how Ontario used to build roads that were unsafe at any speed, and how outrage over the carnage led to better regulation of car and road safety that has saved many lives:
“Dear Dr. Saxe,
I was pleased to see the item in a recent edition of the Toronto Star about the naming of the street in front of the new Coroner’s facility after your father, Morton Shulman. What a fitting tribute.
I am a retired Toronto Police (TPS) officer and frankly, Dr. Shulman was one of my hero’s. Thousands of people owe their lives to Dr. Shulman for the things he caused to be changed. From hospital malpractice to road design and car safety, the list seemed endless.
When I joined the TPS in the mid 1960’s, I chose traffic work investigating collisions. We were forever encountering major and fatal collisions on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway that were caused by poorly designed highways. I was 21 and with no training in highway engineering but I could see the roads were unsafe. There was cement light poles that were not protected by guard rail. There was no guard rail between the north/south portions of the road.
If a car went out of control and ran off the road it either hit a cement pole or a car going the other way with fatal results.
I can recall the grand opening of the elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway near downtown about 1965. The ribbon cutting ceremony was in the early afternoon, the politicians drove down the new road, it was opened to traffic and by about 6:30PM, the first fatality occurred with a motorist crossing the unprotected centre and colliding head on with an opposing car.
But along came Dr. Shulman and he took up the cause of the unsafe roads in the Metro area as well as unsafe cars with no mandatory seat belts or head restraints.
As chief coroner for Metro Toronto he ordered an inquest into every fatal collision. He caused great embarrassment with the roads dept. people who insisted the roads and expressways were safe and it was the drivers who were to blame. Finally, they got the message and started to spend money to make our expressways safe. In 2013, a fatal collision on the DVP or Gardiner is rare. The car manufacturers were legislated into building safer cars.
In the 1960’s with a population of 1.5 million, we were averaging 120 fatal collisions a year on non-provincial roads in Metro Toronto. After Dr. Shulman started his campaign for safer roads and cars the numbers started to drop. By 2012, we have a population of 2.6 million and an average of 60 fatal collisions a year. Still too many.
I used to faithfully watch his program on City-TV. I still have his book called The Coroner and I pull it out and review the chapter on road safety as a reminder of just how bad things were in that era.
I met him only once, we were setting up radar on Russell Hill Rd. and he came out of his home on the way to work and stopped to chat.
As I mentioned earlier, MORTY was one of my heros and I am so pleased to see a road named after him.
Below is a photo from the mid 1960’s after the DVP was extended from Eglinton to Lawrence.
How we built roads that were unsafe at any speed
NOTE: No center guard rail, cement light standards unprotected by guard rail and the bridge has no guard rail to stop cars from hitting it.