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You are not invincible

By: Robyn Robertson & Karen Bowman

A Mother’s Mantra – Road safety lessons to last a lifetime

With Mother’s Day this weekend, many of us are probably feeling a little frustrated at being unable to celebrate in person and, more importantly, hug our moms. Instead, most of us will be resigned, at best, to waving at the end of the driveway or a chat either online or on the phone. For those of us not able to see or hug our mothers this Sunday, even from a safe distance, we at the very least need to get extra creative.

Although it definitely won’t be the same, we are doing it to keep everyone safe. In fact, mothers would expect no less of us during these uncertain times. After all, the superpower shared by mothers around the world is the innate ability to see risk; even when we don’t. Their words of wisdom helped us make it to adulthood; for the most part unscathed. Generations of mothers worked hard to keep us safe as children and this concern remains steadfast, even as we become parents ourselves.

So, in honour of Mother’s Day, as we anxiously await the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions to get back out to our daily lives, let’s pause and pay tribute to the mother’s mantra. I’m talking about those messages from Mom about being safe and avoiding risk. You, like me, have probably heard Mom say at least once or, perhaps a hundred times?

  • Wash your hands
  • It’s not a race
  • Follow the rules and pay attention
  • If your friend jumped off a bridge…
  • Are you listening?
  • Look after each other

Ideally, these repetitive lessons lead to ingrained behaviours that become predictable and reduce risk. This is fundamental as parents begin the process of allowing their children to walk or bike themselves to school. At some point, we have to trust the years spent creating entrenched, habitual and properly executed behaviours to increase safety will remain even in the absence of supervision. Without a doubt, these lessons helped us all avoid injury on more than one occasion and probably prevented a few catastrophes as well.

Let’s keep them top of mind as the roads re-open for business.

Wash your hands

As we venture into the great outdoors in the coming weeks, let’s not forget the importance of clean hands before getting into your car, getting on your bike, or just stepping off the curb. Literally, everyone has embraced handwashing like a coat of armour in the past few weeks, and this should not change. No doubt many of us have an early memory of standing on a stool at the sink while our mother showed us how to wash our hands. Of course, no offence to dads who probably told us to wash our hands just as often. But if your Dad was like mine, he was usually the one helping me get my hands dirty. He taught me to bait a hook, clean a fish, throw a baseball and tend a garden; all of which required extensive handwashing.

Of course, more than a few children approached handwashing with some reluctance because it almost always signaled the end of playtime. I’m sure more than one mother recalls a small voice whining, but they’re already clean. If your mother was anything like mine, even the slightest protest was summarily rejected. “Just because you can’t see the germs doesn’t mean they aren’t there!” Today, we see the risks ourselves posed by COVID-19, and for good reason, handwashing has become something of an Olympic sport.

As we optimistically and cautiously plan our first excursions, don’t forget about some of those other risks which are most certainly there, and what Mom would say to help us avoid them.

It’s not a race

While handwashing may have been our first introduction to the unseen risks only observed by mothers, it certainly was not the last. Mothers impressed upon us the risks posed by speed from a very young age. Whether you were running through the house, riding your bike, or learning to drive, the two words most often heard from our mothers’ lips (and yes, dads’ too) were slow down! In our dash to be first, to finish first, or to get there first, we were often oblivious to our surroundings. We simply didn’t see the sharp corners, the hard surfaces and fragile Great Aunt Dorothy in our path.

Many jurisdictions are entering a time of transition during this pandemic where restrictions are being eased and we are beginning to see a return to more traditional use of our roadways. However, we’ve already seen some belief systems shift to riskier behaviours with a marked increase in excessive speeding. Despite lower than normal traffic volumes, the risks posed by speed remain constant. Being adults does not make us immune to injury despite the false sense of security created by the hard exterior of our vehicles. Our speed can also place others at risk, including the many cyclists and pedestrians who lack a protective exterior. More concerning, older pedestrians are more fragile and may never recover from a collision whereas younger children are inexperienced and high-spirited, meaning they may lack the situational awareness of their surroundings. So, while it may be tempting to take advantage of the open road, listen to your mother, and slow down.

Follow the rules and pay attention

Most mothers are also really big on the rules. Not only are they put in place to keep us safe, but they are designed to create equity and fairness. While some of us might think there are too many rules at times, who can really argue with the importance of them? Irrespective of whether those rules were part of a game, or in the classroom, or even the unwritten rules of taking off your shoes when you visit your neighbour, we avoided at all costs the shame if our mother found out we were breaking those rules.

I’m pretty sure mothers would agree rules of the road are no different. Impaired driving laws, speed limits, cell phone bans, and seatbelts are there to keep us safe; so are traffic signals, turn signals, crosswalks and dedicated lanes for cyclists. Rules increase safety by prohibiting unsafe behaviours, or conditions that increase risk. Even if we don’t see the risk, just like germs, you can be sure it’s there.

More importantly, rules create predictable behaviour, making us confident drivers will stop at red lights, signal their turns, and yield right of way as expected. Similarly, rules mean drivers will slow down in school zones and areas with more cyclists and pedestrians. But any mother would agree, you still have to pay attention. We humans are, well, human. That’s why following the rules goes hand in hand with paying attention. We make mistakes. The overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries on our roads are preventable. Paying attention enables us to be forgiving in those unexpected circumstances when things go wrong by being prepared to stop.

However, what remains predictable are the consequences of unsafe driving particularly when it comes to pedestrian-vehicle collisions. A 2020 study out of Toronto reported, “The chance of surviving a collision with a motor vehicle traveling at 50 km/h is less than 20%; whereas, survival increases to 50% at 40-45 km/h and 90% at 30 km/h.” While behaviours may be unpredictable at times, the laws of physics most definitely are not.

If your friend jumped off a bridge…

Like you, I probably heard this adage from my mother more than once. For those of us unable, albeit unwisely, to resist cheeky comebacks, “Sure, I’ve always wanted to bungee jump!” would invariably lead to the look (yes, that look). As children, we felt a lot of pressure to keep up with our peers and do everything our friends did. Let’s be honest; safety didn’t always weigh into those decisions. But it sure did for moms as their superpower lets them see all the risks and things that may go wrong. Sure, we railed against the disappointment of not being allowed to go to that party or take that road trip (it’s Canada; everybody takes road trips). And Mom was right; it really wasn’t the end of the world.

But it is about choices. Learning to make good choices and avoid, or at least minimize risk is a goal every mother has for her children. Undoubtedly, they would agree some of us are more successful than others when it comes to our behaviours on the road. Not a day goes by without seeing someone speeding, someone distracted, or someone just not following the rules.

Fortunately, they are the minority and just because others do it doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and join them. More than 80% of Canadians don’t drink and drive, more than 90% wear their seatbelt, and concern about distracted driving is substantial. While recent news reports have highlighted some extreme risk-taking on the roads; it’s not the norm. Speaking up and making safe choices on the road every day effectively sends a message to those rulebreakers our mother would be proud of – shame on you. Research shows our behaviour influences the behaviours of those around us.

Are you listening?

I know you have heard these safety messages before and may even be a little tired of them. It’s usually around this point eye-rolling begins in response to what is perceived to be a lecture which would then queue the are you listening to me response to which the answer is always YES! (even if you have to fake it until you catch up with the conversation). I know I’ve been shocked on more than one occasion to hear my mother’s words of wisdom about safety roll right out of my mouth like they were my own, and I’m not alone. People of all ages in all communities are more vocal about road safety and the responsibility we share to protect each other. Eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads to achieve Vision Zero is possible, but everyone must do their part.

Look after each other

Perhaps the most powerful message from mothers we should all live by is, look after each other. While dealing with the dramatic changes to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and the risks it poses, we should be proud of how Canadians have stepped up to do their part by protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk.

We should hold on to this lesson most of all as we get back on the road. The greatest gift we can give our mothers, on Mother’s Day and every day, is a commitment to stay safe and protect others every time we use the road.

Whether driving, cycling or walking, whether young or old, whether travelling for work or leisure, we all want to get home safely to our families and hug our moms. So, what greater gift can we offer our mothers than the knowledge that the years they spent teaching us to stay safe actually stuck.

And, just in time because you know what your mother would say…

“You are not invincible.”

#MySafeRoadHome blog authors: Robyn Robertson, TIRF President & CEO and Karen Bowman, Director, Drop It And Drive® (DIAD) program, work collaboratively as co-authors, drawing from Robyn’s breadth of knowledge on topics alongside Karen’s blogging background and experience leading the DIAD program since 2010. Robyn is the author of TIRF’s knowledge translation model, is well-versed in implementation strategies and operational practices across several sectors. To date, the DIAD program has been delivered to over 60,000 youth and workers across North America.


Unique Mother’s Day gifts for unique moms in 2020

Action2Zero School Safety Assessment Tool (SSAT), Traffic Injury Research Foundation

Getting around: Highway lane closures, share the road and pathways

Drivers caught on sidewalk in White Rock, going 195 km/h in Surrey

COVID-19: Number of photo radar tickets issued in Edmonton up 17 per cent in 2020 as city calls for ability to seize vehicles

Effect of reducing the posted speed limit to 30 km per hour on pedestrian motor vehicle collisions in Toronto, Canada – a quasi experimental, pre-post study

Road Safety Monitor 2019: Drinking & Driving Attitudes and Practices in Canada

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