Speed & Pedestrian Death or Injury

My involvement in the Mount Royal Community Association began as a concern for pedestrians and cyclists on our community roads.  At the time, the perception was that vehicles were travelling at unsafe speeds, in excess of the marked speed limit. This was brought forward to city police, who stated that in previous efforts to enforce, the majority, were, in fact, driving within the speed posted on the street. A subsequent meeting with Alderman John Mar ended with a similar response. Yet I would come back to my community and find myself shaking my head while impatient drivers tailgated, honked horns, shook fists, refused to yield and in one situation, collided into my SUV while I yielded to allow him to pass.

It wasn’t until a very tragic accident early this summer involving a 12-year-old boy, that I realized the broader scope of the issue.   The injuries sustained by the boy were extensive and he passed over the following day. My immediate reaction when I viewed the scene was that the SUV had travelling at considerable speed, much greater than the speed limit. I was quickly assured that in fact what I witnessed was indicative of 50km an hour. I was mortified. Upset, angry and in disbelief, all I could say was, “If this is 50k, then 50k is not okay!”

That afternoon, I began to drive the community. I drove the hill where the accident occurred, and I continued to drive other streets, monitoring my speed in relationship to what I felt was comfortable. What I discovered is I rarely exceeded 30km per hour, and in most cases, travelled less than 30km an hour.

It then occurred to me that what was happening wasn’t so much that people were “speeding”, but that the speed that was considered acceptable was a good deal faster than I was driving, and too fast for a residential street.  From this realization, I began to research, and soon found that studies supporting my observation, already existed in almost every country in every part of the world. I have included a synopsis of only a few.

NHMRC Road Accident Research Unit Relationship of Vehicle Speed to Odds of Pedestrian Death in Collision

Study conducted in miles per hour, converted to kilometers per hour and numbers maintained for absolute accuracy.

Pedestrian Death

Relationship of Vehicle Speed and Pedestrian Death

[Source 1: Killing Speed and Saving Lives, UK Dept. of Transportation, London, England. See also Limpert, Rudolph. Motor Vehicle Accident Reconstruction and Cause Analysis. Fourth Edition. Charlottesville, VA. The Michie Company, 1994, p. 663.] [Source 2: Vehicle Speeds and the Incidence of Fatal Pedestrian Collisions prepared by the Austrailian Federal Office of Road Safety, Report CR 146, October 1994, by McLean AJ,Anderson RW, Farmer MJB, Lee BH, Brooks CG.]

Deputy Chief Coroner of Ontario-Traffic / Pedestrian Death Study

In a 2010 study conducted by the Deputy Chief Coroner of Ontario, Dr. Bert Lauwers, said that speed kills, and it is an inescapable fact, citing that statistics show a pedestrian struck by a vehicle travelling 50 km/hr is FIVE TIMES more likely to die than if struck at 30 km/hr. “The data are irrefutable. The higher the rate of speed at which a pedestrian is struck, the greater the chance of death.” (full report available click here)
Key findings in the Pedestrian Death Review relation to speed and fatality on residential roads listed below:
67% of deaths occurred on roads posted with speeds beyond 50k/hour, and only 5% on roads below 50km/hr. For the remainder, speed was unknown.
• 76% of fatalities occurred in urban areas and 75% happened on wide, busy arterial roads.

Recommendations in his report include:
• reducing speed limits to 30 km/hr on residential streets;
• adopting speed limits of 40 km/hr on other streets unless otherwise posted

The City of Helsinki, Finland-Traffic / Pedestrian Death Study

Results from a report produced by the Helsinki City Planning Department, Finland, states that “a speed of 50 km/hr increases the risk of a pedestrian death almost eight-fold compared to 30 km/hr. The graph below demonstrates the collision speed and probability of death.

probability of pedestrian death

Probability of Pedestrian Death

A common argument by drivers who are against lowering speeds in residential areas is an increase in travel time, however, the same study shows that a decrease in speed has very little effect while the probability of death for the pedestrian increases significantly. This is due to the fact that drivers, regardless of speed, will be required to stop and wait at lights as well as other expected obstructions. Therefore, speeding through residential areas accomplishes very little, while creating greater risk for those who live, walk and cycle in the community.

Pedestrian Death Probability

The Finish study found that by lowering the speed limit to 30 km/hr on residential streets, COMBINED with effective speed camera enforcement, would reduce the pedestrian accident costs by 70 percent. The report concludes that 30km/hr in residential communities combined with speed-camera enforcement is the “cheapest and only quick measure to strongly reduce the number of serious pedestrian accidents in wide urban areas.” – source: Helsinki City Planning Department Traffic Planning Division Sebastian 02 Pasanen Driving Speeds and Pedestrian Safet(1).pdf

U. S. Department of Transportation
 – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Traffic / Pedestrian Fatality Review
A report published by the United States Department of Transportation in October of 1999, stated that its findings were similar to what was determined by a UK report, which are as follows.
• 20 mph (32 km per hour) impact speeds: 5 percent death, 65 percent injured, and 30 percent uninjured
• 30 mph (48 km per hour) impact speeds: 45 percent death, 50 percent injured, and 5 percent uninjured
• 40 mph (64 km per hour) impact speeds: 85 percent death and 15 percent injured.


Pedestrian Death - Pedestrian Injury Severity and Impact Speed

Pedestrian Death – Pedestrian Injury Severity and Impact Speed

The above studies were included to demonstrate that regardless of when or where in the world a pedestrian – traffic speed and safety study was conducted, the findings support that 50km an hour is disproportionately more deadly than 30 km hour.
The Mount Royal Community has even a greater challenge and risk than the average community, certainly in Calgary, due to its proximity to downtown.

Mount Royal is a beltline community. When a driver is in a hurry and wishes to avoid congestion and lights on the collector roads, the option to drive through Mount Royal, (which many streets are marked at the same speed as collector roads) it becomes obvious why this community has become an option for those who are in a hurry to get to work, or get home.
** Final note – Airdrie has a 30km/hr on all residential streets as of a bylaw passed in the 1980’s. The only difference between school zones and regular is the size of the fine.


Additional Links Below (click to view):

Vehicle Travel Speeds and The Incidence of Fatal Pedestrian Collisions – NHMRC Road Accident Research Unite – The University of Adelaide

30  foo Sunnyside (Calgary) petition website

Ontario coroner urges city speed limits to be cut to 40km/h when not otherwise posted (and 30k in residential areas) – National News

Fleet Safety – Government of New Zealand

Maynooth Cycling Campaign – Dublin

Airdrie – 30k in residential areas – speeders top complaint list

Road Deaths – May 2013 – How have Cyclists Fared?

Reduce Speeds Ontario coroner urges – CTV News

European Cyclist’s Federation – The Power of 30k Speed Limit (advocating reduced speed to 30km/h in every residential community in Europe


“Those refusing to comply with speed limits either don’t believe in the influence of driving speed on impact speed or just don’t care at all. Due to this ‘rejection front’ it must be proven in every country that the laws of Isaac Newton are true.”
FH Walz, M Hoefliger and W Fehlmann, 1983.


Forward your thoughts and feedback to MRCA Traffic –

Below are photographs of streets in Upper and Lower Mount Royal, which are considered 50km/hr (standard speed unless marked otherwise), many lack sidewalks. I took them while walking my son to school, driving in lower Mount Royal, and on a typical run in the community.

small side street

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