A group of lawyers and advocates is calling for tougher penalties when drivers kill or injure pedestrians and cyclists.
There will be food and extended family. There will even be cake.
But David Stark and his three boys, aged 6 to 12, will end the day on Thursday by scattering some of the ashes of their beloved wife and mother on what would have been her 43rd birthday.
First, however, Erica Stark’s grieving husband will join other survivors and a coalition of advocacy groups at a downtown press conference calling on the Ontario government to levy harsher penalties on drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists.
On Nov. 6, Erica dropped her car off for a routine oil change. She also wanted the winter tires installed.
“There wasn’t a hint of snow in the forecast, but that’s just who Erica was. Very organized, safety conscious, she wanted to have winter tires put on before the first snowfall arrived,” said David Stark on Wednesday.
Erica, who helped train service dogs, decided to take her four-legged companion for a walk while she waited. She was near Midland Ave. and Gild Dr., when a van mounted the curb and killed her, placing Erica on the list of 78 pedestrians and cyclists who have died on Toronto roads in the past two years.
David Stark says the penalty for careless driving under Section 130 of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act — $400 to $2,000 and a maximum jail sentence of six months — is “woefully inadequate.” He wants tougher deterrents.
“What would be fair would be $50,000. If people knew that if they chose to look at their cellphone or read a message while driving and it results in severely injuring someone or killing someone, that careless driving charge should come with a $50,000 fine. If people have to take out a loan or re-mortgage their home, so be it,” he said.
Drivers should also have to appear in court for victim impact statements, Stark said.
“As it is right now, people who are charged never have to set foot in court. They can be represented by a lawyer or their agent.”
Stark said listening to the victims’ families is “part of being accountable, listening to the impact of their action, their decision to do something stupid while driving.”
The coalition pushing for a vulnerable road user law is composed of United Senior Citizens of Ontario, Kids at Play, Cycle Toronto, Walk Toronto and others. It is also recommending more licence suspensions, driver education and community service.
Drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists are frequently not charged or have their charges reduced, according to advocates and lawyers.
“The mindset is still one that, where there is no intention to do harm, then ‘it’s just an accident’. We believe this attitude must change among police, prosecutors and judges,” said Albert Koehl, a lawyer and cycling advocate.
Two Ontario coroner’s reviews in 2012 called such deaths “preventable” and not merely “accidents,” said Koehl.
The coalition isn’t primarily concerned with punishing offenders, he said, but rather with sending a strong message to drivers “that before they get behind the wheel of a car, before they text while driving, or open a door into traffic, or drive 60 km/h in a 40 km/h zone, they will think twice.”
Tougher law is a natural extension of the coroner’s recommendations, said Patrick Brown, a personal injury lawyer who, like Koehl, worked on those reports. New York, Illinois and Oregon have already introduced such laws and other states are considering them.
“The injury and death toll this year tell us we need it here. We need additional deterrence to provide safe passage to these vulnerable road users. When I see the fines that have been given out in cases where I represent the families and survivors, the penalties are ridiculously low,” he said.
Stark won’t speculate on what caused the driver to lose control of the van that killed his wife, and the case is still before the courts.
While they wait for an outcome, the Stark boys, Dylan, Gavin and Matthew, are seeing a grief counsellor.
“I feel they’re bottling up some of their emotions. That may be to protect themselves because it’s too painful,” said their dad.
“They may also be bottling things up because they want to protect me; they don’t want me to feel too sad.”
Cycling and Pedestrian Deaths
25%: Canadian traffic fatalities involving vulnerable road users
30%: Cycling deaths caused by speeding drivers, according to the Ontario Coroner’s 2010 report
28%: Cycling deaths caused by driver inattention
7: Motorists that died on Toronto roads in 2013
40: Pedestrians that died on Toronto roads in 1990 and 2013
2: Cyclists that died on Toronto roads in 1990
4: Cyclists that died on Toronto roads in 2013
67: per cent of pedestrians
$85: Fine for riding a bike on the sidewalk
$85: Fine for driver who hit Toronto cyclist Ryan Carriere in 2005