Police traffic stops near busy or high speed roadways are a genuine danger. Mainly to the officer, but also to all traffic in the vicinity. A “Move Over” law has been enacted in Ontario that is an attempt to make such stops safer. Unfortunately new dangers are created when vehicles move over and slow down on the approach to a stopped police cruiser. There has always been a need to study these incidents and improve them.
A recent photo shown on an OPP Twitter account showed a reasonably safe instance, as shown below.
There are several features in the photo that merit mention. Firstly, the van that was stopped moved over substantially to the right such that there is almost a full vehicle width between its driver’s side and the painted, white edge line of the road. Such lateral clearance from moving traffic is always desirable for obvious reasons.
Next, the OPP officer’s vehicle is an SUV and the large mass of this vehicle makes it better “blocking vehicle” than a typical police cruiser. The officer has also done the proper action of placing his SUV closer to the edge line than the stopped vehicle. This is an important safety issue because, as can be seen from where he is standing, he body is protected, to some degree, from potential passing vehicles that might veer toward him.
The faster that vehicles travel the more difficult it is for them to change their lateral position and angle in a given distance. Thus the police officer was correct in placing his SUV rather close to the back of the stopped vehicle because this will lessen the opportunity for faster-moving vehicles to penetrate, laterally into where he is standing. If he had placed his vehicle further back then there would be more opportunity for such faster vehicles to move laterally into where his is standing.
There would have been some advantage gained however if he had placed his SUV further back. This is because, if the SUV was struck, it would require that the SUV be pushed a longer distance before reaching the officer’s location. During that post-impact travel distance the SUV would be slowing down and, if the officer was struck by the SUV, the impact would generally be less severe. So there are trade offs to be considered.
By placing the SUV closer to the rear end of the stopped vehicle there is an advantage in that, if the SUV is struck, it will have less chance to rotate and miss contact with the vehicle ahead. It is important to recognize that, by striking the vehicle ahead the SUV loses its post-impact speed. This results in a lessening of the impact severity should the officer by struck by that SUV. In a sense it is adding additional mass to the blocking effect of the SUV and thus helps in protecting the officer when an impact occurs with the vehicle ahead.
In many instances when the two stopped vehicles are positioned as they are, there is a benefit gained when the impact force is not applied directly at the centre-of-gravity of each vehicle. This benefit is in creating rotation of each vehicle and this rotation helps in reducing the post-impact speed of each vehicle when the wheels of each vehicle have a “sliding sideways” component. If the wheels each vehicle are simply rolling forward that “rolling resistance” is very small and there is often very little slowing of the vehicles post-impact. So this non-central impact to each vehicle is another safety benefit. So it is important for the officer to have positioned the SUV at the offset position that he did with respect to the vehicle ahead.
Looking at the composition of the traffic in the lanes, it is obvious that this is an arterial roadway and not a high speed freeway. While some arterial roads may have posted speeds of 80 km/h, most have lower posted speeds. So this is an advantage. If this had been a high-speed freeway then the danger to the officer would be exponentially higher.
Furthermore, looking at the composition of the traffic one can see that it is made of passenger cars and LTVs (i.e. Light Trucks and Vans). That is a safety benefit. Generally the vehicle that might strike the police SUV would be of a similar mass and that makes a huge difference in the post-impact results in terms of the post-impact speeds of the SUV and the other stopped vehicle.
The lack of any heavy trucks in this view is of great benefit, not only because of the mass issue, but also because of the visibility blockage that occurs whenever large trucks are in the vicinity. The driver of a passenger car or LTV who is travelling in regular traffic conditions is often positioned too close to the rear of heavy truck and that driver’s vision is greatly reduced with respect to events that may be occurring or existing ahead. In some unfortunate incidents the drivers of such vehicles change lanes to the right without realizing that a police vehicle is stopped in that right lane resulting is potential deadly consequences. Similar issues arise when the driver of such a smaller vehicle is positioned adjacent to the large truck in the lane beside them. When there is a high percentage of heavy trucks on the road they can be bunched together and create and effective visibility wall preventing the driver of any smaller vehicle from seeing anything beyond that wall. Overall, visibility obstruction is a major issue whenever smaller vehicles are mixed with heavy trucks.
For many previous years there were major concerns with respect to the safety of police officers when their vehicles have been struck while stopped along major roads and highways. When police cruisers were primarily of the Ford Crown Victoria type there were many incidents of a rear-ended police cruiser catching fire as the gas tank was ruptured. Installation of protective bladders and other adjustments reduced those occurrences. However it is difficult to protect any passenger car occupant while it is stopped and struck by a heavy truck travelling at highway speed.
Ultimately a police traffic stop next to a high speed highway or freeway is never a safe situation in the scenarios that presently exist. Some safety benefit can be obtained by making every effort to position stopped vehicles as far away from the through traffic lanes. Unfortunately that is not always possible as police sometimes must place a cruiser in a live lane, for example, to protect persons that may be in that lane from a previous collision. Whether it is a struck pedestrian or a person trapped in a heavily damaged vehicle, there are instances where police cannot move persons off the travel lane into a safer location. In the early moments when through traffic has not built up to a stop or crawl the situation can be very dangerous. Lights and sirens may not be sufficient. As mentioned earlier, in the vicinity of heavy trucks visibility can be blocked. Sirens may be difficult to hear in the noisy realm of a busy highway.
It needs to be recognized that the danger posed to officers at a traffic stop are great. More education and publicity focused on the general public’s appreciation of the dangers may be of some assistance. However police also need to be properly trained and understand those potential dangers. When those dangers are too high they must consider aborting such a stoppage or make quick adjustments to the scenario to create a safer situation. The lives of those officers depend on an informed knowledge about the unique circumstances that each scenario may present.
News media have indicated that changes to Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) will be announced this week. The Ford conservative government stopped earlier Liberal legislation that would have improved the functioning of the SIU. That earlier legislation was in response to the detailed Tulloch Report in the spring of 2017. Justice Tulloch was a member of Ontario’s Court of Appeal and his recommendations for change were deep and broad. It remains to be seen what new changes will be made by the Ford government and whether it will follow the Tulloch recommendations.
A recent visit by Gorski Consulting to the SIU website has demonstrated that a large improvement has been made with respect to its transparency. That is hardly a compliment as any change could only be better than the secretive functioning of the past. However, the major, improved difference is the public availability of the Director’s full report. Such a report contains the details of the SIU investigation such a photographs, measurements and diagrams. Previously no details of an investigation were ever made public, just a summary of the SIU’s conclusions.
The public availability of the Director’s report means that any independent party, such as Gorski Consulting, can examine the details of an investigation and a public comment or rebuttal can be made thus providing an additional input that the public can consider. While there are many aspects to the SIU investigations that are praiseworthy, it remains the continual problem that much of the conclusions are affected by the bias of the investigators. This is not to single out the SIU specifically, but bias is a continual problem that exists in all investigations that have been encountered over the four decades of our involvement in such matters.
One of the significant problems that still remain uncorrected in the SIU was never addressed in the Tulloch report. That problem relates to the transparency of the backgrounds, experience and education of its hired investigators and how that hiring took place. While the Tulloch report considered the sensitive issue of whether to allow persons with police backgrounds to become members of the SIU, it was never recommended that the backgrounds, education and experience of all members of the SIU should be made public. This continues to be a serious drawback to the SIU’s operations. Upon reading several of the Director’s reports it became clear that some conclusions were suspect and it came to the question of who made those conclusions and were the experience and training of those investigators sufficient to allow those conclusions to stand. The problem is that no one is able to examine the credentials of these investigators. Judging by some of the conclusions that were made in the reviewed Director’s reports it is our opinion that some investigators were lacking in those essential areas of training and experience. This shortcoming needs to be corrected by identifying the specific backgrounds of the investigators who were assigned to a specific investigation.
The process of how a person was hired to become a member of the SIU is also critical to the proper functioning of the SIU. It is through this knowledge of the hiring process that the public can be assured that individuals were not selected because they possessed a specific bias. Just because an individual possesses a police background, or any background, does not mean that they will necessarily operate in a biased fashion. However, given the very great importance of selecting unbiased individuals, there is a lack of focus by the SIU toward providing the essential public perception that it is doing all it can to remove any potential bias in its membership.
How many collisions occur that never get officially reported? That fact can affect the reliability of collision statistics and what the public is told about roadway safety.
Gorski Consulting has been involved in a long term study of unreported collisions and incidents. Since 2009 a specific site in London, Ontario has been monitored and incidents of loss-of-control and evidence of collisions have been documented. This documentation has then been followed up with requests to the London City Police so that their collision data could be obtained and compared to our data.
In 2017 a series of five articles were uploaded to the Gorski Consulting website describing the details of our findings. These articles corresponded to the five years, 2011 to 2015 for which police data was available and compared. We recently made a second request to London Police and have received their additional data for the years 2016 and 2017. A sixth article in now close to being completed that discusses the findings from the 2016 data.
The trends from the previously announced analyses appear to be extending to the 2016 data. The main finding from this work is that at least 80% of collisions and loss-of-control incidents that occur at this site (Clarke Road north of Fanshawe Park Road) are not documented in the official police data.
This finding may have significant implications for a large amount of research that is based on police reported data. It is not the news that a large number of official researchers, municipal transportation agencies, and other government institutions want to read or have known. When 80% of the data regarding collision occurrence is unknown how can analyses of large data files be expected to be reliable? While it is claimed that estimates can be generated from what data is known using a variety of complex algorithms few independent experts actually know the details of these calculations to confirm that they are truly reliable.
The results from our research is inconvenient and therefore publicity of these results has gained some resistance in official circles.
Posted maximum speeds along the Red Hill Valley Parkway in Hamilton have been reduced. Such an action may produce more safety problems.
Even before the discussions about the hiding of the Tradewinds Scientific report, the City of Hamilton should have been aware of the contents of the 2013 CIMA report which indicated “An average of more than 500 vehicles per day were recorded exceeding 140 km/h” on the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP).
The reduction of the speed limit from 90 km/h to 80 km/h will have very little effect on the average operating speed because of the perception that drivers have about what speed is safe. What is not recognized is that even CIMA misjudged the level of safety of the RHVP in their report of 2015 by assuming that the design speed was 110 km/h rather than the 90 km/h that was eventually revealed. Thus even these experts who conducted the safety audit of the RHVP were misled. What could one expect of the average driver who does not possess the expertise of experience and training to understand what is meant by “design speed”?
What is likely to happen now that the speed limit is reduced is that much of the speed control will be given to police who will be asked to enforce the limit. Police will be waiting on the roadsides with their radar/lidar equipment and pulling drivers over to give them a traffic citation. What is not recognized is what new dangers that will create.
With a much increased level of police presence along the sides of the RHVP there will be an increase in traffic chaos. Drivers attempting to follow the new “move over” laws will be attempting to change speeds and will be attempting to change lanes in the vicinity where the RHVP is already challenging with respect to it horizontal and vertical curves, along with it substandard surface friction. This chaos is likely to produce an increase in collisions – the very collisions that the police (and City of Hamilton) are attempting to reduce.
This is the reality that is not being publicized.
What the research suggests is that there is a need to improve the safety conditions of the RHVP at its most dangerous location. That location is the northbound travel from the Greenhill exit to the King Street exit. That should take first priority.
Set-up of a collision rapid notification system for emergency expressway closures is needed to deal with instances where a collision leads to additional collisions. The need becomes obvious from examination of many expressway, multi-vehicle pile-up collisions.
As a recent example, a fatal, multi-vehicle pile-up occurred in the westbound lanes of Highway 401 at Foldens Road, near Ingersoll, Ontario, on the afternoon of February 13, 2019. Following the original crash at Foldens Road, two additional, multi-vehicle collisions occurred to the east of that site. One of the subsequent collisions occurred near the On-Route service centre is just east of Foldens Road. Another subsequent collision occurred east of Sweaburg Road. The distance between Foldens Road and Sweaburg Road is about 7.5 kilometres and this provided some indication of the possible length in the backup of traffic that occurred as a result of the original collision.
The latest counts indicate that traffic volume approaches about 70,000 (AADT) in this vicinity of Highway 401 which is equipped with three-lanes in each direction. About half of the weekday traffic is composed of heavy trucks. It is not difficult to comprehend that a stoppage in traffic can quickly build several kilometres behind an initial collision site.
The problem is that sudden traffic stops from collisions are unexpected. There is no signage to warn of the upcoming stoppage. In contrast, when a stoppage is the result of road construction and maintenance signs are posted for several kilometres before reaching the actual construction site. This signage is often insufficient when a stoppage occurred further behind the commencement of the signage. Yet, some benefit is achieved in comparison to the emergency stoppage from an unexpected collision. Thus it is this sudden and unexpected stoppage of traffic, often in poor weather, with poor surface and visibility conditions, that is the problem that needs to be addressed.
The problem is that when a collision occurs the responders who are the first to arrive are not equipped to deal with the traffic stoppage. Those responders are there to deal with the immediate emergency of securing the lives of those injured in a crash. Although the vehicles of those responders may be equipped with sirens and emergency lighting that equipment is often of limited use. The typical height of a police cruiser or ambulance is well below the height of the typical tractor-trailer. So when a large number of tractor trailers come to stop close to each other a tall wall is created which can block most of the view of any emergency vehicles.
Large blocking or crash trucks with TC-12 arrow signs are often positioned at lane closures when sufficient time is available. But such arrangements are often much too slow to deal with the sudden stoppages that occur from unexpected collisions. The question becomes whether a system can be set up to respond with such blocking or crash trucks at an earlier time. This question should be posed particularly in those times and locations when collisions are more likely to occur. So for examine, the approach of a winter storm is likely to generate road surface and visibility deterioration which is likely to lead to crashes. So can such blocking and crash trucks be in a state of alert, much like firemen waiting for an alarm? Can more notification systems be set up along busy expressways such as Highway 401 that can display warnings such as “Stopped Traffic Ahead”? These are the types of considerations that need to be discussed to minimize the probability of additional collisions when vehicles come to be stopped for an initial collision.
Furthermore, Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is greatly needed at this time. Governments should do whatever they can to speed up the installation of this technology. AEB, if reliable, can do much to reduce collisions due to stopped traffic on expressways.