In reporting of collisions to the general public withholding of evidence inevitably leads to speculation. The consequences of such speculation are not always benign nor publicly recognized.

A case in point is a reported collision on Highway 401 near Renforth Drive in Mississauga, Ontario, on April 26, 2021 as reported on the OPP Twitter account. The OPP notification did not provide any information about how the collision occurred, however three photos were provided and are shown below.


The OPP need be commended for their transparency which is better than other police forces in Ontario. When major collisions occur on expressways such as Highway 401 they frequently post photos of the vehicles and site on social media. But this is not necessarily because of their ethical sense of duty. It is more likely because they are aware that drivers passing by collision sites take photos. This photo-taking is a distraction and could place emergency personnel and others in danger. By providing photos the OPP discourage the need for the public to reveal something valuable that they may feel they are revealing. Yet even these few photos provide little explanation for why collisions occur and, more importantly, how and why a serious injury or death occurred.

In the first photo above we can see that a heavy vehicle has struck a portable concrete barrier that appears to be in a construction zone. The truck can be seen lying on its left side in the background. In the foreground, at the bottom, we have inserted an orange oval to highlight the presence of a black tire mark near the top of the concrete barrier. Undoubtedly this tire mark was caused by one of the tires of the heavy truck. Vehicles that strike such barriers are supposed to slide against the wall and come to a stop over a long distance and in an upright position. But that is not what has happened.

In the second photo we see a considerable transfer or rubber material onto most of the left side of a white passenger car. The characteristics and height of the marking indicates that this was caused by one or more tires of the heavy truck. The characteristic smudging of the rubber transfer indicates that the tires of the truck were rotating at the time of contact. The quantity of this transfer indicates that the two vehicles were in contact for an extended time.

In the third photo we see the underside of the truck. We have inserted an orange oval to illustrate the buckling of the centre link of the truck’s steering system and the presence of a white transfer which is likely from contact with the concrete of the barrier. So it appears as if the underside of the truck has made contact with the concrete barrier.

If we return to the first photo and look at the surroundings, we can see that there is westbound traffic to the left and right of the barrier. So this does not appear to be an incident where the truck was steering to the right in an attempt to exit the highway and therefore drove into the the path of the car. Such a situation is quite common since truck drivers have difficulty seeing vehicles near their right front wheels. What is more likely is that the car moved into the truck’s lane and the truck driver steered, or was deflected, into the portable concrete barrier. But what would a heavy truck be doing in the left lane prior to the collision? Or was the truck initially in the middle lane and did the truck driver steer there in an attempt to avoid the car? Possible.

Even though most vehicles are now equipped with event data recorders (“Black Boxes”) in instances like these, where the contact is over a prolonged time period, there may not be a “wakening” of the system such that collision data may not become stored in the car’s recorder. Similarly the existence of event data in heavy trucks is more rare and more difficult to extract due to the specialized equipment that is required.

The OPP reported that there were minor injuries as a result of this incident and it might not even be reported by official news agencies. But even reporting by official news agencies will not contain the important information about what caused the collision and what led to its heightened consequences. For example, if all went well, the truck should have been pushed, or steered, against the wall of the barrier and it should have come to a stop in an upright position. But that is not what happened. The truck went over the barrier and rolled over. Yes, the consequences appear to have been minimized as the injuries were light. But what if the truck was carrying propane, a tank ruptured during the rollover, and there was a massive explosion? Would we be talking about the minimal consequences? Not likely.

Why did these to vehicles collide? Did the white car move suddenly into the truck’s path? That is an important question that cannot be answered based on the minimal evidence provided by the three photos. But there will be speculations. Not just by us, but by many. And some of those speculations will be totally off base. Lack of quality information does not stop persons from speculating, it only increases the magnitude of the error in the public’s understanding. And that is not helpful. A few words of explanation by police would not do any harm in their progress toward charges but could go a long way toward providing an understanding, and education, by the general public.