Highway 401 Safety Issues – Traffic Volumes

Gorski Consulting has documented the Highway 401 traffic volume in its continuing series on safety along the South-western Ontario segment of the highway. A series of videotaping sessions was conducted at four sites along the highway. The video is being analysed and findings will be reported in future postings to this website.

The current discussion will review the traffic volumes that were documented during our videotaping sessions. It can be recalled from previous posts that multiple video cameras were set up at four sites as shown below.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

The Elgin Road site was documented in November of 016. At that time procedures were not fully developed and camera positions were such that traffic volume was not easy to determine.

The three remaining sites were documented this fall (2018). Videotaping was conducted for approximately 2 hours at the three sites. Procedures were altered such that cameras were positioned on an overpass which provided a view along the length of the highway. This made it easy to count vehicles and obtain a total traffic volume. The site at Westminster Drive was videotaped a second time on December 2, 2018 because of the interesting observations that were made in the original study on October 30th.

The table below summarizes the observed traffic volumes at the three sites.

It can be observed that there are differences in the traffic depending on the day in the week. For example a weekend such as Sunday produces substantially less heavy truck traffic as indicated in the December 2nd data.

The data for Dillon Road was obtained on the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday and, being a Friday, a low amount of heavy truck traffic would be expected because most drivers would  be at home for the holidays. This is demonstrated in the very low truck counts for November 23rd (318) even though the videotaping occurred on a weekday.

We can also see the difference in non-truck traffic. A very large number of non-trucks were observed on the Sunday of December 2nd.

These differences in the volume and characteristics of the traffic on Highway 401 need to be considered when we are discussing the safety of the highway. The presence of heavy trucks is likely to be one of the major factors in the highway’s collision history. As noted previously, truck traffic is limited to travel at a maximum of 105 km/h whereas the light vehicles travel much faster, about 116 to 118 km/h. This difference occurs even though the heavy trucks are slowing the other vehicles by “interfering” in their travel. While slowing these speeders may be a good thing it is also creating traffic conflicts that we need to consider.

Further details  from the video data will be revealed as it becomes available and will be posted to the Gorski Consulting website.

Driver Drowning at Port Bruce, Ontario

Why would a driver arrive at a traffic controlled beach in order to drive into the water and drown?

On December 4, 2018 a 66-year-old male driver reportedly drove through a private driveway and into Lake Erie in Port Bruce, Ontario. The official facts reported to the public is that the vehicle was found in the water at approximately 0800 hours by a local volunteer firefighter. The firefighter was also an employee of the local road works crew.

It was stated that the time when the vehicle entered the water was not known but that police did not believe there was any foul play involved. Several days have passed yet no further information has been provided about how this incident transpired.

It is peculiar that this drowning occurred where it did. It is a location where the road traffic along the beach is well guarded by a number of large, closely-spaced, concrete blocks. Any driver who was intent on committing suicide would find it difficult to find a location where they could enter the water.

Officially it was claimed that the vehicle entered the water through a residential driveway located right next to the end of the beach. The photos below provide an explanation of the site details.

This is the far end of the beach where the concrete blocks are replaced by a wooden fence belonging to the first property adjacent to the beach. The driveway of this property was the reported location where the vehicle entered the water.
Looking from the beach side of the concrete blocks the property at the upper right corner of this view is where the residential driveway was located where the vehicle entered the water. The tire tracks in the grass were caused by emergency personal who removed one of the concrete blocks to access the water located behind the camera.
This view shows the residence and driveway used by the vehicle driver to enter the water in the background.

It is peculiar that the deceased driver would have selected the residential driveway in order to enter the water. In one was wanting to commit suicide it could have been much easier to simply step out of the vehicle and jump in the water at any point along the beach. So why go this somewhat elaborate procedure of searching for a driveway in order to enter the water?

Looking into the driveway one could see some tire marks on the grass and it was explained that these marks were caused by the vehicle that entered the water.

This is a view looking through the residential driveway toward the water in the background. Some faint tire marks can be seen on the grass and they seem to travel into the water.
The location where the vehicle entered the water is in the background. It can be seen that this is a small channel next to the beach and there is a stone walk at the end of the driveway with a sudden drop into the water. The  top of the wall itself is a only a couple of feet above the water.

Views of the white SUV as it was removed from the water showed that it appeared to sustain substantial damage to its front end. The local fire chief explained that such damage would not be unusual. It is not clear how this damage could be caused from simply striking the water. The drop of the vehicle from the top of the wall at the water’s edge would be minor and the vehicle’s fall would be cushioned by striking that water.

Looking at the grass in the driveway there is no evidence of upheaval that would suggest that the vehicle was accelerated to a higher speed. The tire marks on the grass are indicative of rolling tires. If there was hard acceleration there should have been evidence of the grass being torn up by the spinning tires. The very short length of the residential driveway would also provide minimal opportunity for the vehicle to accelerate to a high speed.

In totality the evidence would suggest some peculiar happenings that are not readily explained by the official version of what took place. Suicide does not appear to be an obvious explanation. Yet no one has provided an explanation of why this tragedy occurred.

School Buses & Seat-Belts – Continued Confusion and Misunderstanding

The CBC has ignited a controversy regarding seat-belt use on school buses that has resulted in confusion and misunderstanding.

We all understand that keeping children safe on school buses is of great importance. However what may appear to be an obvious solution is not. This issue is complicated and a quick fix may lead to more danger than is realized.

In the most recent news, the CBC has reported that certain Micro Bird minibuses contain a safety detect with respect to insufficient padding at the back face of seat-backs. This lack of padding could cause injury to children during heavy braking or other longitudinal deceleration such as a frontal impact.  The requirement for padding evolves from the fact that school buses are not equipped with seat-belts and the padding is needed as the partial substitute.

It needs to be understood that minibuses are far different from full size buses with respect to the type and severity of injuries that could be generated. Minibuses, as the name implies, are much smaller and weight much less than full size school buses. These are important facts. Mass (weight) is a critical factor in determining whether an occupant will be injured and what type or severity of injury will be sustained. Because of their lower mass and volume minibuses may generate different types and severities of injuries than full size school buses. This point has never been made in discussions about school bus seat-belts.

Unfortunately many persons are jumping on the bandwagon and declaring their support for installation of seat-belts on school buses without really understanding why Transport Canada decided not to mandate their installation. Seat-belt installation and usage may help prevent some injuries and reduce the severity of others but on the flip side, other injuries will occur through usage of seat-belts, some of which could be life-threatening. The discussion so far is short on  examining the full complexity of the issue and this could adversely affect  the safety of innocent children.

Fires Continue to Erupt After Recent Collisions

This fatal collision on Brock Road in Pickering is being investigated by the SIU. However the fire that erupted is also a concern.

The above photo was posted on the CP24 News website describing a fatal collision in Pickering, Ontario. The collision is under investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU). The SIU becomes involved when serious injuries occur that might be caused by police. Aside from the SIU investigation the photo above shows that a Purolator truck was one of the vehicles involved in the incident. Markings on the front and left side of the truck provide obvious signs that it had caught fire.

Little concern is being expressed by the news media and police investigators with respect to the number of fires that have been occurring after recent serious collisions. These fires are important because they are a genuine threat to the lives of persons who may not be able to exit a damaged vehicle. Being trapped inside a damaged vehicle is not an uncommon occurrence. Especially when the damage (crush) is significant. The damage is necessary in order to dissipate the kinetic energy of a crash. However sometimes such damage may entrap an occupant. Emergency personnel are needed to perform a variety of cutting and prying of the vehicle structure in order to free an occupant. But when a fire erupts it can engulf a vehicle before emergency personnel can arrive. Or, even if emergency personnel arrive, the fire may have spread so much that it may be too late. That is why it is crucially important to make note of collisions where fires erupt and to report those incidents to government agencies such as Transport Canada.

Transport Canada is the agency responsible for the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). One of those standards governs the eruption of fires after motor vehicle collisions. Transport Canada must monitor the eruption of fires in real life collisions to determine whether additional actions are needed to protect the public. If Transport Canada is not notified that information is lost. Thus there should be inquiries made to determine if police agencies are following the proper procedures and notifying Transport Canada of these dangerous incidents.

Observed Speed of Vehicles On Hwy 401 At Four Sites

View showing several cones placed at 100-metre intervals with video cameras pointed at each cone location along Highway 401. This method enables an average speed to be calculated within each road segment.

What kind of safety problems exist along the busiest highway in Canada? Government agencies such as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation monitor traffic along Highway 401 but that information is not made available to the public. Some of this data could be educational and therefore valuable for the public’s ability to make informed conclusions about what actions need to be taken to improve the Highway’s safety.

In response Gorski Consulting has engaged in a series of documentations of traffic with the use of multiple, synchronized, video cameras. The documentations typically involve a highway overpass where cameras can be set up to look along the length of the highway. Additionally, cameras are placed at markers spaced out at 100-metre intervals (example shown above) such that average speeds can be obtained within those intervals.These methods enable calculations of important facts regarding traffic motions and potential safety problems. Gorski Consulting will be presenting an number of findings from these studies in order to inform and educate the public on these important issues.

In this present article we present the general results of average speeds of westbound traffic at four different sites, as noted below.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

The table below provides a summary of those observations.

Several explanations need to be provided to appreciate the meaning of these data. Firstly, heavy, Class 8 trucks, which are typically a tractor with one or more trailers, have their speeds governed (limited) to a maximum of about 105 km/h. These trucks are mixed in with the higher-speed, light vehicles such as passenger cars, pick-ups, SUVs, etc. While most of these trucks travel within the right lane, some of them travel in the median lane for short periods especially when proceeding with a passing motion of another, slower truck. The above data includes the speed of those slower trucks except in the Elgin Road site where no trucks were observed in the median lane. The explanation at the Elgin Road site is because the highway at this location is made up of 3 lanes. Thus heavy trucks that make a passing motion will move from the right lane into the middle lane so that they do not need to travel in the median lane.

Some appreciation of the traffic volumes can be had from noting that observations were made for just under 8 minutes at the Elgin Road site yet 62 vehicles were documented in that short time. Conversely at the Dillon Road site documentations were carried out for over 40 minutes, or about 5 times as long, while slightly over 2 times more observations (119) were made. So the volume of traffic in the median lane at the Dillon site was much less, there were fewer trucks in that lane and the average speed of vehicles was therefore higher.

Data like this needs to be evaluated when discussions are made about the safety of Highway 401. Many members of the public have questions about the safety of installations such as the high tension median barrier that is being installed between Tilbury and London. This installation is precisely in the zone of three of the four sites being discussed in this article. Construction is also being carried out in this zone and much concern has been expressed about how this leads to crashes with stopped vehicles. Also when snowfall arrives there will be conclusions expressed about the collisions that will result. All these concerns by the public need quality data which Gorski Consulting hopes to provide.

This report provides a preliminary example of the type of data that will be revealed and discussed in future items posted in this Gorski Consulting website in the near future.

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