Translating Traffic Safety Into Safe Streets

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 1:45 p.m. September 2, 2015
Updated: 3:15 p.m. September 2, 2015

No matter how you say it, traffic safety is important.

Two men in TPS uniform sit in a broadcast booth near another man speaking into a microphone
Constable Giancarlo Marelli and Hugh Smith get ready talk traffic safety translated into Portuguese by CIRV host Jorge Neves

That’s why every month, for the last year, Constable Giancarlo Marrelli has gone on the radio to speak about traffic laws and safety in a language other than English.

Marrelli, along with Constable Hugh Smith, have spoken to Portuguese and Punjabi audiences on multicultural radio station CIRV FM. Smith has also spoken to Chinese, Japanese, UkraInian, Russian and Korean audiences through presentations and radio programs. This is all in a bid to educate the diverse Toronto community on traffic and safety in the city. 

“Radio is huge in the multicultural community and people tune in to listen to shows in their language,” says Smith, which is why officers are frequently on the airwaves connecting with different audiences. “It gives the listener more clarity than the French and English publications we have.”

Radio is also one of the best ways to connect in different languages because people can tune in or stream it easily and at a fraction of the cost that they would need for satellite channels in other languages, says Smith. 

A typical show will have the host speaking in his or her language, then asking questions in English and translating the officers’ answers back.  Often, halfway through the show, the host will open up the phone line for questions directed at the officers themselves.

“People want to know about the law and ask officers questions directly,” says Jorge Neves, who hosts a Portuguese daily opinion show. On one such day, when Smith and Marrelli are in the studio, the topic is back to school safety and new traffic laws. The phones lines light up and people call in, speaking in staccato Portuguese. Often, the questions they ask are about driving concerns, ranging from the distance to keep from a bicycle to laws on large vehicles and right turns. Listeners also call in just to say “hi” and “good job” to officers. 

Two men in TPS uniform speak to another man
CIRV radio host Jorge Neves talks with Constables Hugh Smith and Giancarolo Marrelli before hitting the airwaves

The officers also speak on fines and any changes that may have occurred, or are about to be implemented. Often, they get callers applauding the police on their efforts and, once in a while, they will get perplexed drivers who are not sure how a new law will assist them. This is when the two officers get the chance to clarify why certain rules exist and how they enhance safety for everyone. 

On this particular day, a truck driver calls in to say he has to take a right from the left lane because of the truck and what is the best way to do it safely. Smith explains that some of the worst accidents he has seen are when people are taking turns but he tells the driver that he is doing everything right and adds a few tips for safety. “You seem to be doing everything right, maybe just a honk to give a warning to people walking or cars on your right,” adds the officer, saying it is tough driving a truck on downtown streets. 

After almost a dozen shows educating citizens on traffic laws and safety tips, Marelli still gets new questions every time. They range from questions on winter driving to pedestrian crossings. 

“You may think there are things people just know, but often they don’t,” he says, on the level of traffic-law literacy regular citizens have. 

He gives the example of pedestrian crossings: “As children, we have been told that a flashing hand sign means to stop… as adults, we become complacent about safety and take it to rush even more,” he says, about the countdown at crossings that is meant for people who are already crossing the street, not for those who haven’t started. 

The shows featuring the two officers have gained a lot of popularity. Neves says sometimes when they can’t make it people call or message him, asking when they will be back. 

“It is a very important segment as listeners always have questions on safety and (the show) helps keep people connected and gives people the opportunity to speak to police directly.”

TPS crest watermark