Whenever a vehicle enters a body of water the consequences can be deadly. Especially in winter conditions. Such a result requires an investigation into how and why the vehicle got there in the first place.

The OPP West Region Twitter account recently posted the following comment along with the above photo:

“No injuries sustained in single vehicle collision in Perth County this morning. Driver and puppy passenger safely rescued. Fantastic teamwork…”

There is little doubt that there are citizens who owe a debt of gratitude to rescuers who have saved their lives in potential drowning scenarios. And a happy result such as this should be publicized. However this cannot be the full story.

The design, signage and maintenance of our roadways have followed many decades of improving standards and those standards must be adhered to for obvious safety reasons. Standards exist for  design of  roads, installation of appropriate signage and installation of roadside barriers to prevent the many very dangerous roadway consequences that can occur. In many instances when a vehicle enters a body of water it is because of some failure of the design, signage or maintenance of a road, and not just due to a driver error.

When the OPP provides only scant information about a situation like this an important opportunity is lost. Not only to inform future drivers of this danger but also to allow others to evaluate whether the site contains an adequate level of safety.

The photo below is taken from Google Maps and this shows the area on Perth County Road 29, northwest of Stratford, Ontario, where the vehicle entered the water. The present view is looking north. Unfortunately the OPP did not indicate which direction the vehicle was travelling and this makes it difficult to evaluate how the vehicle may have entered the water. However the most likely situation is that the vehicle was southbound, approaching the camera, and slid toward the left of the view into the water.

The views from Google Maps often under-represent the extent of roadway upgrades and downgrades. While not having attended this location before it is likely that there is a substantial downgrade in the road for vehicles approaching the camera and so this is likely the situation that the vehicle driver experienced upon approaching the bridge.

Unfortunately the OPP also did not provide a description of the surface road conditions. The road surface looks newly paved in the above view and Google views are reasonably recent so it is likely that the road surface was in relatively good condition at the time of this incident. Yet environmental conditions can change all that. Even a thin layer of snow or ice can make travel down a downgrade very hazardous. It may be that the driver lost control because of icy or snowy road surface conditions but the lack of information from the OPP does not help in educating us of that possibility.

The concrete abutments of the bridge are not protected by an end treatment or guardrail that might deflect vehicles away from the immovable concrete or from travelling into the water. That is a problem. It may be argued by Perth County that such protections are not warranted, perhaps because the volume of traffic using the roadway is low. But we do not know. No one could possibly know what the traffic volume is for this roadway except the County of Perth. And this is another problem. Since the County is the defendant in any civil litigation related to roadway deficiencies in their jurisdiction, they are unlikely to be helpful in any way that might expose them to liability and financial penalties. So the public has little knowledge whether barriers should have been installed at this site.

The only other entity that must have some knowledge about the safety of the site is the OPP themselves. However the OPP is paid by the Ontario government which is also a defendant in many civil claims related to roadway deficiencies. So the OPP, just like many police forces in Ontario are not trained to detect road safety problems even when they may involve deadly consequences.

So in many instances the general public is left on its own without assistance from the official entities that should be protecting its rights to safe travel on public highways. Lucky results are well publicized but bad results, leading to someone being held accountable, are not.