Cause of Collisions Is Often Not Correctly Detected

Many persons who are deserving of charges are not captured by typical investigations of motor vehicle collisions.

Look at the scenario above which commences when traffic is diverted due to a closed lane. The driver of the BMW SUV has been forced into the left lane along with all eastbound drivers at this Oxford Street location in London, Ontario. When this occurs vehicles become more compressed and visibility ahead becomes more limited.

In the next photo we see that an elderly rider of a limited-mobility scooter is seen in the centre, left-turn lane, and it appears he is intending to cross from north to south. It is possible that our BMW driver could have seen the scooter since, looking at the shadow caused by the vehicle ahead, there would appear to be a clear line of sight. But the BMW driver may not be focused on that area of the road. The BMW driver may be focused on the upcoming opening in the right lane and the opportunity to pass the vehicle ahead using that right lane.

Looking at the photo below it is clear that other eastbound vehicles are moving into the right lane after passing the area of construction. Or perhaps an eastbound vehicle has stopped in the left lane to allow the elderly scooter driver an opportunity to complete his crossing.

Indeed the photo below shows that the BMW driver steers into the right lane. And the elderly driver of the scooter is no longer in the median. So where is the scooter rider? In front of the white SUV? In front of the BMW SUV? Will this result in a death? Note that we see the illumination of brake lights in the white SUV on the left as well as the BMW on the right.

Fortunately the photo below shows that the elderly scooter rider passes through the intersection and the crisis is resolved.

However, consider who would be to blame if the scooter rider was struck.

Most likely the elderly rider of the scooter would be blamed for attempting to cross a busy, four-lane road at a dangerous location.

But what about the driver of the White SUV? Did this driver stop and cause the scooter driver to understand that it was safe to cross?

And what about the BMW SUV? Could a collision be avoided if the driver was more patient or more attentive to the surroundings?

How would we make these assessments?

Event Data Recorders (EDRs) can help. Modern vehicles are equipped with electronic modules that constantly monitor the motion of equipped vehicles. When a sudden change in speed occurs that resembles a collision the module will begin to store the data a few seconds preceding the event as well as for a short time afterward. But the change in vehicle motion must be of a sufficient magnitude to “wake up” the system. Impacts with pedestrians or bicycles would generally not be sufficient to wake up the system. And given the relatively small mass of the scooter and rider a similar situation would occur.

If the BMW struck the scooter and a recording was made, then there might be information about the BMW’s pre-impact speed, if and when braking was applied, and other important facts such as whether the BMW driver sped up by stepping on the accelerator pedal when he ought to have detected the scooter. But the timing of these events cannot always be determined from EDR data.

For example, the EDR can not tell an investigator the precise location of the white SUV that was in front of the BMW. So an investigator would not know the degree to which that white SUV prevented the BMW driver from detecting the scooter rider. Proving that the driver of the white SUV deliberately stopped to allow the scooter to pass might be difficult. In all likelihood the driver of the BMW would be absolved of any wrong-doing because the BMW driver “had the right-of-way”. The right-of-way is an ugly term coded in Highway Traffic Acts throughout North America. It allows for many judicial, bad decisions to be made expediently and unjustly.

We can also ask another question: Why would the City of London not face charges in a situation like this? Imagine that an employee of the City’s transportation department had sufficient training and data to understand that there were frequent attempts by pedestrians, cyclists and medical scooter drivers to cross this portion of Oxford Street. Imagine that this employee’s manuals told him/her that certain thresholds were met for the installation of some form of traffic control. Imagine that there were discussions with City politicians about costs and that this ultimately resulted in postponing of such traffic controls. Should the consequences of a death or serious, permanent injury be placed solely upon the drivers of the motor vehicles and scooter? Should the City also bear some responsibility?

In many instances there are multiple factors that, in their combined influence, determine whether a collision will occur and the magnitude of its consequences. Some understanding of these many factors must be had and considered. Collisions are complex matters but their causes are rarely, correctly identified.  No education, experience, honorary titles and medals, or fancy equipment can improve this failing if there is no genuine interest in pursuing the truth. Too often cause for motor vehicle collisions is determined using simplistic logic that sounds true, rudimentary calculations that mimic science, and a belief by the general public that there is a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain who has all the answers.

Walking With Your Back to Traffic – Why Is It OK If You’re A Cyclist?

Why is it irrational to see a pedestrian walking within a travel lane with their back to traffic? Let us consider the photo below which shows a pedestrian walking on a cycling lane.

Is this dangerous? Not only is his back to traffic but the next photo shows that he is wearing headphones. Is there anything wrong with that?

If we understand current beliefs toward cycling safety there is apparently nothing dangerous about pedestrians walking in this manner. Even though, through our childhood years, we were told exactly the opposite: walking on the road with your back to traffic is dangerous.

So why is it also just as dangerous for cyclists to ride on the edge of a road with their backs to traffic? If an impact occurs with a motor vehicle do we seriously believe that the cyclist will be better protected than the pedestrian?

The cyclist shown below has difficulty seeing vehicles approaching from behind. While a mirror would help, in many cases typical commuter cyclists do not ride with mirrors.

As demonstrated in the photo below the cyclist below must turn his head over his shoulder and this is not ideal for observing dangers behind or new dangers that might develop in front.

Let us consider a further example. What if a mother was pushing a baby carriage in the same location where we showed the pedestrian above. Would that be dangerous? Consider the view below. Would we consider that the mother and baby in the carriage would safe walking in a cycling lane with their backs to traffic?

What about the child next to the mother walking with the small cycle? Do we seriously believe that this child would be safe riding on their small cycle at the edge of lane of motor vehicle traffic, or in a painted cycling lane? What is  the safety difference when we exchange these pedestrians with an adult cyclist?

Some adults who ride in cycling lanes will transport their children in flimsy mini-trailers towed behind the cycle such as the example below. Little do the realized is that, if they were struck from behind the first thing to be struck would be the mini-trailer.

It is important to recognize that these mini-trailers are low to the ground. This means that they are more difficult for drivers to detect. In congested areas drivers may be able to see the taller cyclist but may not be able to see the mini-trailer. And because these mini-trailers are not frequently used drivers do not expect them to exist behind a cycle. Thus drivers may believe they have enough time and distance to avoid striking the cyclist only to discover at the last moment that there is a mini-trailer attached behind the cyclist.

The stiffest portion of motor vehicle is at a low level: the bumper level. And the most vulnerable portion of a child’s body is at the head level. While seated in a flimsy mini-trailer the head of a child is exactly where the stiffest portion of a motor vehicle would make contact. Why is this so wise?

Why has our society continued to create these dangerous conditions for cyclists? In many instances cyclists would be better off riding facing traffic if they are to ride on a roadway or in a painted cycling lane. At least there would be a greater opportunity to attempt an evasive motion should a motor vehicle stray into the cyclist’s path. But this is not a solution. The solution must be to change our understanding of cyclist safety and remove cyclists from such dangerous conditions.

A Lot of Useful Lessons Could Be Learned From Tiger Woods’ Collision – But They Won’t Be

As regrettable as they are, collisions involving celebrities are a time when a large segment of society is interested in knowing what happened. And this can be a valuable opportunity to educate those who may otherwise be unreachable. But those opportunities are almost always lost. The details that could be used to provide that education are kept from the public. Such, unfortunately, will likely be the reality in the latest celebrity collision involving Tiger Woods.

It was reported that Tiger Woods, perhaps the most known and talented golfer of the current generation, was involved in a single vehicle collision on Hawthrone Boulevard in suburban Los Angeles, California on the morning of February 23, 2021. Some Googlemaps images below should clarify where the collision site was located.

The Google view below shows the centre of Los Angeles on the upper right and the orange circle in the centre shows the location of the collision site.

The view below outlines the path that Tiger Woods would have taken if he travelled along several kilometres of Hawthorne Boulevard up to where the collision occurred at the orange circle. Note that there would have been many sharp horizontal curves along this path that were much sharper than the one approaching the collision site. We would what to know how vertical curves (up-grades and down-grades) might have related to the safety of the roadway. Whenever horizontal and vertical curves are combined this can be a challenging environment for many drivers, especially when environmental factors such as rain or snow are introduced. It was noted that the roadway was dry at the time of the Woods’ crash.

The view below shows the collision site with a measurement taken from the centre median to the approximate final rest position of the SUV. This distance is in the general range of 130 metres. This distance is not exceptionally large. But we have no information about what events occurred prior to the median impact.

The news media provided many photos of damaged SUV lying on its side and we were told that this was a rollover collision.

The use of the term “rollover’ to describe the collision is a misnomer. While Woods’ SUV obviously came to a stop on its side the most important characteristic on the damaged SUV was the major frontal crush that occurred at a low level. This is why Woods reportedly sustained his leg injuries. The rearward displacement of the front wheels was an important identifier of the large amount of kinetic energy that was dissipated in this region. The right front wheel was pushed back further than the left-front, again indicating this is where the greatest force was concentrated.

But there was also minimal crush of the hood. And the left-front fender also sustained very little crush.  Such facts help to identify how the frontal impact occurred. This damage is more common when a vehicle plows into an embankment. Such an embankment impact would occur at a typical T-intersection where a driver fails to detect the end of the road and drives through the intersection striking the embankment that might exist on the opposite side of the road. The greater crush at the right front would indicate that the vehicle was leading with its right front corner when the impact occurred. The force was likely oriented upward from the ground as if  the SUV was diving down into the earth. Obviously Tiger Woods did not travel through such a T-intersection so we would want to know what conditions existed causing an impact of a similar nature.

There were other areas of damage to the rear corners of the SUV which were not as severe as the frontal impact. While it was stated that the SUV rolled over several times there is little evidence on the vehicle exterior to support that claim. While it is possible for a vehicle to make isolated contacts with the ground and the lifting off the ground, it would be rare that scrapes and scratches to the painted surfaces would not exist. Also the side roof rails of the vehicle do not appear to have been damaged and such damage would be very common in a rollover. Again, we are not saying that multiple rollover events did not take place, but the evidence of the exterior of the vehicle requires that further explanations be provided.

As typical, police and news agencies have provided little information about the path of the SUV from the road to its final rest position so the specifics of how and why the collision occurred cannot be known. Some comments were reportedly made by investigating police that no tire marks were found in the northbound lane preceding the SUVs impact with the centre median. Such a fact is not surprising. Modern electronic stability control (ESC) systems that would exist on the Hyundai Genesis SUV would become activated preventing the yaw-type rotation that would have occurred if such systems did not exist. Such activation would prevent any tire marks from occurring that could be detected by the naked eye. Many events could have occurred for several hundred metres before the impact of the centre median and we would be completely unaware of them. Fortunately modern-day vehicles are equipped with event data recorders (“Black Boxes”) that would capture a variety of data for several seconds leading up to the crash. Some vehicles can also capture snap-shots of those events. This is why news media should be asking police to release this data for public consideration.  But, as has been customary, such useful information is unlikely to reach the public.

Many lessons could be learned during this time when the public’s interest is high. As an example, an understanding could be had that modern safety systems are geared for typical impacts where horizontal forces exist or where lower-severity rollover forces exist. But these systems are not well-adjusted to impacts where the force is applied upward from the floor pan. Air bags protect the head and chest areas. Three-point seat-belts also protect much of the upper body. But there is little done to protect the lower portion of an occupant’s body. Generally, leg injuries are not very life-threatening.

Using a coding scheme such as the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS)  we can code the severity of injuries according to this six-point scale whereby level “6” would be untreatable (decapitation for example) and level “1” might be a soft-tissue neck stain. For injuries to the lower extremities the highest magnitude of injury could be coded a level “3”, or serious, if a femur is fractured. And with other uncommon complications even a level “4” code might be possible. But these would be quite uncommon. It is generally not possible to sustain a level “5” or “6” lower-extremity injury. So those agencies whose mission it is to prevent death are not as eager to focus on lower extremity injuries even though they may be quite debilitating.

Injury causation must be a part of our societal understanding and training so that we can better select how we function and what we do to prevent injury. This understanding and training is continually lost when essential information about collisions is kept from the public.

Zygmunt Gorski Gives Virtual Presentation to American Academy of Forensic Science

Sometimes evidence that may be uncommon can break open a case if an investigator/analyst understands that evidence. That was the message given to members of the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) in a presentation given by Zygmunt Gorski at its annual meeting on Friday, February 19, 2021. Given the COVID-19 restrictions the meeting had to held virtually.

The presentation entitled “Roadside Tire Marks: A Useful Source of Supplementary Evidence” described the various types of physical evidence that is created in a motor vehicle collision. That physical evidence is created on the road surface in terms of gouges, scrapes, fluid spills and tire marks. It is also created in the damage to the involved vehicles and used to calculate vehicle speeds, collision severity, and matching of one vehicle to another. It is also created in the vehicle interior with respect to occupant contacts that are used to match injuries to the vehicle interior.

In a select few instances, tire marks on the roadside can help to unravel certain collision scenarios if the investigator/analyst is properly trained and experienced in identifying and interpreting that evidence. This was  the focus of the Gorski Consulting presentation.

 

Is London Ontario Prepared for More Cyclists?

Climate change is the impetus that is forcing more infrastructure to be built to accommodate cyclists. It is believed that more infrastructure will cause more cyclists to use that infrastructure. That simple conclusion may be debatable. But are we prepared for the change? Like many North American cities London, Ontario is facing these changes with limited data about cycling volumes and other essential information such as cyclist characteristics and behaviours. It also does not appear to have a good grasp of the quality of its current cycling infrastructure.

Like many cities, London created a Cycling Master Plan (CMP). The latest version, called “London On Bikes”, was released in 2016. This plan noted that current rates of cycling as a share of all modes of transportation was about 1%, whereas automobiles took up 76%, public transit represented 11% and walking represented an additional 8%. In the CMP the City of London proclaimed its goal to increase the cycling mode of travel from 1% to 5% by the year 2030. Yet this was not deemed sufficient in a 2019 report authored by members of its Cycling Advisory Committee (CAC). In order for the City of London to meet its obligations to reduce carbon emissions to a required level the CAC report indicated that the cycling mode of transportation would have to be increased to “25% or greater”. This is a huge increase.

A review of the 2016 CMP and the report of the CAC report leads to the concern that the City of London has not developed a sufficient process to understand the current status of cycling within the City. And, secondly, there appears to be no defined process to gather cycling data that will accurately follow the changes in cycling while infrastructure changes and improvements are made.

With respect to the selection of future cycling infrastructure the CMP the description below was to inform readers about what actions were taken to select future cycling needs.

It appears from the above description that no actions were taken to gather specific data about cyclists or to review the data that the City possessed. Not only is it important to gather data on cycling volume and speed but also important data such as the rider characteristics (age, sex), what actions cyclists were observed to perform (travelling through, turning), whether cyclists were carrying cargo, and the cyclist locations (riding on the road, riding on the sidewalk), and so on. Selection of the type of infrastructure that will be needed and where improvements or additions are needed must be based on a thorough understanding of the cycling population where those cycling infrastructure changes are to be made.

The CMP provided some pictorial views of the different types of cycling infrastructure being proposed for the City and these are shown in the figure below.

The CMP then provided some maps of the City showing the current infrastructure as well as what was proposed in the short term (0 to 5 years) and median term (6 to 15 years). The figure below shows the cycling infrastructure in a portion of the City map that takes us along Dundas Street (the “Main Street” of the City) in the downtown (on the right) and the central-east portion of the City (on the left). Just looking at the various colours and patterns of lines should indicate just how much disintegration exists in the City’s cycling network. The location of Dundas Street is essentially invisible because no cycling facilities exist on it nor are any new facilities being proposed.

Granted, much construction and installation has occurred but it is mostly piecemeal. A cyclist riding eastward from the downtown would encounter numerous types of cycling facilities and then encounter a sudden “endpoint” where facilities no longer exist. Yet if the cyclist must move on he/she may encounter dangerous conditions not suitable for cycling.

In another figure taken from the CMP (below) the area being shown is also along Dundas Street from Wellington Street in the downtown to the central-east location at Hale Street.  Again the various lines also indicate existing and proposed cycling infrastructure. Once again we focus on the key area of the City along its “main street” which is Dundas.  After some scrutiny one might find the label indicating “Dundas Street” but essentially no cycling infrastructure exists or is being proposed for it. However we must recall that this report was prepared in 2016 and, suddenly, plans can change.

When we fast-forward to November 12, 2020, the photos below show Dundas Street in downtown London looking east from Wellington Road. We see construction: It is the construction of a new cycling facility, a facility that was not planned for in the 2016 CMP. This construction occurred over a distance of about 1.2 kilometres between Wellington and Adelaide Street.

 

 

 

And once again, when we fast-forward to January 9, 2021 we see (two photos looking west below) that another section of cycling path has been constructed on Dundas Street in central-east London between English and Ontario Streets. This new path was also not proposed in the 2016 CMP.

 

The figure below summaries the two lengths of new cycling facilities along Dundas Street. The longer orange line represents the 1.2 kilometres of path between Wellington and Adelaide Streets. The shorter orange line is the 400-metre cycling path between English and Ontario Streets. However there are gaps in the cycling paths along Dundas Street. Cyclists cannot just magically jump over these gaps but they must ride through them.

In particular the blue line in the above figure shows a length of 2.4 kilometres on Dundas Street in east London between the two arterials roads of Highbury Ave and Clarke Road. There are no cycling facilities in this zone and this is where we want to conduct a further evaluation. Let us look at some examples of cyclists riding in this length of Dundas Street.

The photo below was taken in February, 2015. It shows a male cyclist that is riding westbound on Dundas Street approaching Ontario Street. Recall that Ontario Street is where the new cycling path  was completed and a photo was shown above in January, 2021. In February 2015  this cyclist is travelling on a fairly well plowed surface but he is approaching a line of parked cars. He will have to veer to the left and possibly into conflict with any vehicles passing him from the rear.

In the next view taken in September, 2015, we see a westbound cyclist riding on Dundas Street west of Second Street. We see how westbound vehicles in the curb lane must move into the passing lane because they cannot pass the cyclist with less than the “1-metre-lateral-gap” required by Ontario’s Traffic Act. Given the typical lateral weaving of a cyclist the loss of this gap is not always the fault of the motor vehicle driver. And neither is it the fault of the cyclist. But it is the fault of the designed infrastructure. If a collision occurs, undoubtedly police will charge either the motor vehicle driver or the cyclist but not the designer of the road or the City of London.

In the next photo taken in September, 2015, we see a westbound cyclist on Dundas Street approaching Hale Street. A male cyclist is seen with an attached mini-trailer that is loaded with a variety of cargo. Ahead of this cyclist is another westbound cyclist. The cyclist with the trailer is attempting to pass the cyclist ahead and must use essentially all of the right lane in order to complete this action. The cyclist with the mini-trailer does not have a mirror so he cannot easily see what traffic may be behind him. Again, this will be deemed the fault of the cyclist if a collision should occur. But how much of the fault is related to the lack of proper infrastructure to protect such cyclists even if they are not fully compliant with the law or lack a full understanding of their danger?

When the City of London commences its campaigns to increase the cycling transportation mode it must understand that it will place itself in a position of higher risk if it fails to provide the proper cycling infrastructure along with that promotion. If the cycling mode is increased from 1% to 5% or 25% there will be an increased risk of cyclist collision that has to  be taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis.

Another example (below) is also taken from September 2013 and it shows an eastbound cyclist riding on the south sidewalk of Dundas Street approaching Hale Street. An old building exists very close to the road causing a visibility obstruction as well as difficulties for drivers of large trucks and buses that sometimes make a right turn from Dundas to Hale. For cyclists this arrangement also poses a problem as seen by the presence of pedestrians that must use the sidewalk. If the cyclist choses to enter the right lane to bypass the pedestrians then he places himself in danger from being struck by the large volume of traffic on Dundas. Again, lack pf proper infrastructure along this very busy corridor causes these conflicts. Yet there was no proposition in London’s 2016 CMP to confront these conflicts. The City of London needs to conduct a detailed study of its current and past cyclist populations so that it can better understand what priorities it should chose for the future.

Overall observations have been made by Gorski Consulting of cyclists in this area of Dundas Street between Highbury and Clarke have been analysed for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Findings indicate that, of those cyclists who travel straight through the area 90% are males and only 10% were female. If the City of London is to increase its cycling population it cannot rely just on young and middle-aged male cyclists. It must understand how to engage a wider spectrum of the City’s population. It is unlikely to do so unless it provides safer infrastructure for cyclists.

Observations were  also made of the location of these cyclists with respect to whether they rode within a travel lane or whether they rode on the sidewalk. It was found that 74.4% of these cyclists rode on the sidewalk even though City of London bi-laws prohibit cyclists from doing so. Again, this is an indication of the extent to which cyclists do not feel safe riding through this area. They are willing to face traffic fines by riding on the sidewalk rather than risk their lives and ride in a traffic lane next to the high volume of motor vehicle traffic.

Observations and testing conducted by Gorski Consulting at various sites across the City of London confirm that the percentage of cycling versus other modes of transportation is close to 1% as reported in the report of the City’s Cycling Advisory Committee. Five years have passed since the City introduced its Cycling Master Plan (CMP) in 2016. Only nine years remain before the termination date of that plan in 2030. Yet there must be a very sizeable increase in cycling if the minimum goal of 5% is to be reached in that time frame. While some noticeable cycling infrastructure has been built no results have been reported whether there has been an increase in the cycling mode and by how much.

Gorski Consulting has been conducting videotaped documentations of cycling and pedestrian traffic in London for more than 10 years. This has occurred inadvertently during our collision reconstruction assignments where we needed to analyse the motions of traffic with respect to specific collisions that we were reconstructing. Recently we have returned to analyse these videotapes to pull out the data on cyclist and pedestrian volumes and their characteristics. We have also carried out additional video testing recently with the specific intent of documenting cyclists and pedestrians. Presently analysis of 20, 1-hour, sessions have been completed and more will likely follow. We would have been happy to share some of this data with the City of London however past experience indicates how unreasonable its administration has been. While joining the City’s Transportation Advisory Committee in the fall of 2019 we attempted to bring forth some transportation data for discussion with Advisory Committee members only to be thwarted by City officials who informed us that presentation of such data could not be part of the Committee’s functions. After being treated in this manner several times we terminated our relationship. Subsequently City politicians have recently discussed closing down most of the Advisory Committees altogether.

Members of the City’s Cycling Advisory Committee (CAC) experienced similar treatment after they completed a very thorough review of the City’s CMP in the fall of 2019. Again, some politicians made the point that the CAC had stepped out of its bounds and  wanted to stop the report from being filed or considered. Since then there has been a change of mind and the report became public. Incredibly the CAC report was a thorough document provided to the City free-of-charge, and obviously involved extensive work by committee members.

It is these kinds of dysfunctional failures of the City of London to consider outside input that causes inefficiencies, waste and misdirection of funds. Projects that are schizophrenically pieced together, then re-arranged and dismantled only to chase in another direction. This is evident in the piece-meal pattern of incomplete cycling paths that start suddenly, end suddenly and provide minimal continuity. It is evident in the incomplete patchwork of cycling facilities along the City’s main street, Dundas Street, that has been the focus of this article. This dictatorial approach to administration cannot be effective if the City is to achieve its very important objectives of increasing cycling and attacking this vitally important threat of climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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