“The Public Deserves To Have Answers”. These were the words of David Smosarski in a letter read at a meeting of the Hamilton City Council yesterday. His daughter Olivia had died in a May 5, 2015 crash on the Red Hill Valley Parkway almost two years after a lost 2013 report of Trandewinds Scientific was delivered to the City which described the inferior results of road surface friction testing on the Parkway.
Just as important in Smosarski’s letter were the following words: “To this day my family does not have any answers on why the car my daughter was a passenger in lost control that night”.
While the focus of the news media in Hamilton has been on the loss and subsequent finding of the Tradewinds report, there are broader issues that are relevant. These issues are exemplified by Mr. Smosarski’s words “…my family does not have any answers”. The tragedy of losing a daughter is one thing. But the Smosarski family has been victimized a second time by a system that has made “any answers” about how and why Olivia died very difficult to unravel. Part of the difficulty has been illuminated to the public by the tempest of the lost Tradewinds report. Otherwise the Smosarski family would be no different than many families who have suffered similar circumstances in silence. Their plight, as members of a very small group of citizens, has been of no official concern. Their voices have not been loud or strong enough to affect the future of any politicians. No organizations who are interested in goodwill, democracy and justice have ever raised a voice or helping hand. Likely because this small group of victimized families have never been heard of.
The victimization of the Smosarski family is not just due to the loss of the Trandewinds report. It is due to the overall secrecy that prevents them from knowing how Olivia died. This secrecy extends to issues about the release of information from the police investigation. It extends to the secrecy of what their insurance company has done about investigating the matter. It extends to the very high costs of obtaining legal advice and payment for investigation reports and experts. Costs for a private citizen to obtain a complete package of police investigation reports regarding a fatal collision run at about $9,000.00. Depending on the discretion of individual police forces some citizens cannot obtain any police reports regardless of what they may be willing to pay.
These are the broader facts that are unlikely to be discussed while the tempest of the lost Tradewinds report passes through the region.
David Smosarski deserves to have answers.
Snow and poor visibility this past week has demonstrated the importance of speeding up the installation of automatic emergency braking (AEB).
A number of multi vehicle collisions have occurred on the 400-series expressways of southern Ontario this past week. These highways carry the most traffic volume at the highest speeds. Although weather forecasting can provide general information about conditions in a general area. However it is of minimal help for drivers who need more detailed information and about conditions in their immediate vicinity and where they are headed. Until vehicles of the future are equipped with weather and road surface “radar”, or technology that can warn drivers of the immediate conditions, weather related crashes will continue to evolve into dangerous, multi-vehicle pile-ups as unaware drivers crash into stopped vehicles from previous crashes.
Until vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure expand into wide-spread and reliable systems, there is current technology available that could be the stop-gap solution. That technology is automatic emergency braking (AEB). AEB technology can “see” things ahead that drivers cannot, and automatic brake application could prevent or reduce the numbers of multi-vehicle pile-ups in poor visibility and poor road surface conditions.
This is particularly so in the wintry environment of high speed expressways that carry a large percentage of heavy truck traffic. What is often overlooked in that heavy trucks pose a particular problem in winter storms on high speed expressways. Firstly the drivers of these trucks cannot stop as quickly as drivers of passenger cars.
Inability to bring a heavy truck to a full stop is not the only relevant issue. But in many instances the drivers of light vehicles will “zig and zag” between these trucks at close range. Truck drivers cannot be continually applying light braking for every light vehicle that encroaches into their space. This results in many instances where a heavy truck is too close to a light vehicle. When heavy braking is required instability from collision avoidance can occur. Even if the truck driver has successfully avoided the first and immediate threat that may not be the end of the proble. A chain reaction of other emergency motions by other drivers to avoid truck now increase the probability that one of those drivers will be unsuccessful and a collision occurs. What happens next is often a game of rolling the dice as to whether this becomes a multi-vehicle, fatal consequence.
New technology might help if it could produce a warning or even prevent the driver of a light vehicle from encroaching into the dangerous space around a heavy truck. Whether such technology is possible could depend on the consequences from such a preventative action. Even if such a feature was feasible it would require some advanced logic and this is not likely to be available in a short time frame.
So AEB provides the most logical and quickest way to affect traffic in the immediate future. The question of its reliability in the vast number of unique collision scenarios must always be tested with adjustments made from that experience.
The installation of AEB on heavy trucks would be highly desirable. A heavy truck travelling a highway speed poses a large amount of kinetic energy that has the potential of causing a lot of damage and harm. So if that kinetic energy can be controlled at its earliest stage great benefits are possible. The results might be analogous to the safety benefits of early ride-down provided to occupants by seat-belts. Unknown to many, it is the early “catching” of an occupant’s body by a seat-belt, which is attached to the vehicle’s structure, that provides a great safety benefit to an occupant. So too with a heavy truck, where an early detection of a problem, resulting in a early reduction in kinetic energy through brake application, could provide the safety benefit, not only to the truck driver but to any occupants of other vehicles that could be struck by that heavy truck.
Thus reliable AEB cannot come quickly enough as it is likely to provide a substantial safety benefit by reduced the frequency and severity of multi-vehicle crashes on high speed expressways.
The latest unexplained car fire occurred today, February 13, 2019, in a parking lot of a mall in Toronto. Still, no one appears to be concerned.
Gorski Consulting has raised the warning flag on several occasions in the last couple of years regarding the apparent increase in unexplained vehicle fires. Some of these fires occur in minor collisions where fires should not be expected. In other instances, such, as the one above, the fires commence while the vehicle is simply parked and un-attended. Nothing has been said by either Transport Canada or the U.S. NHTSA as to whether there is an increase in the numbers of fires. But then no one in the news media appears to have asked.
Up to now these fires are occurring when a vehicle is unoccupied or the occupants had a chance to escape the vehicle. It is only a matter of time before that good fortune will end. Given the number of times persons become trapped and cannot exit a vehicle following a more serious collision there is a probability that persons could be burned alive before they could be rescued. That unpleasant possibility needs to be considered.
The meaning of road surface friction data or that a single report may have been hidden pales in comparison to the overall issue of secrecy that predominates road safety issues.
A local uproar erupted in Hamilton, Ontario when it was revealed that a 2013 technical report authored by Tradewinds Scientific may have been concealed from politicians and the public with respect to road surface testing that was conducted on the Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways in that city. That report was recently “discovered” by the City’s new Director of Engineering.
The matter is significant because the friction data shows low levels of friction for the surface of the Red Hill Valley Parkway. A 2017 safety study by the local Hamilton Spectator newspaper showed higher numbers of collisions occurring on the Red Hill versus the Lincoln Alexander and there were a number private citizens that were also wondering about the safety of the Red Hill. In interviews by the Hamilton Spectator newspaper with the previous Director of Engineering there was no mention of the Tradewinds report and comments about the surface of the Red Hill and the Director was quoted as saying that the friction results were “inconclusive”. The City of Hamilton has conducted newer testing of the road surface friction but, to date, has refused to reveal that data. In totality it leaves many with the notion that proper disclosure has not been “seen to be done” as many citizens are of the impression that unreasonable secrecy is evident.
While this is not an inconsequential matter, it shows the narrowness of thought that is focused on this single issue, while failing to recognize the much more important, broader issue. There is a widespread existence of unneeded and inefficient secrecy in public transportation safety. There is a constant conflict between those wanting assurance that the public be made safe while travelling on public roadways versus the accountability of those responsible from maintaining that safety. Maintaining safety in a public transportation system is complex. There are many influences that require a juggling of fact-finding, reaction and prioritizing. In the end issues arise where the public’s safety is compromised while in many instances the causes those occurrences are complicated and difficult to unravel. Inevitably someone does not perform perfectly and could be made accountable for their imperfection. Unfortunately, the results of these imperfect actions or in-actions lead to injuries and deaths. So the consequences are indeed quite serious. While a single impaired driver may be held accountable for a single collision, the public road administrator’s decisions can expose thousands or hundreds of thousands of the public to danger when their decisions are not what they should be. In the wake of this responsibility there is a large incentive to protect from being found at fault. Thus this is the incentive for developing a regime of secrecy where ever possible. A formal process of documenting, prioritizing and acting on safety problems has existed for many years in Ontario. To some degree, in the past, this documentation has been accessible as it was administered centrally by Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation. However, in recent years that documentation has been allowed to take place on software developed by private firms. Those firms claim that the software is proprietary. Thus, a furthering of secrecy has evolved without the public’s awareness.
The remedy to date has been the civil courts. This has created further incentives toward secrecy. At present our system is dominated by lawyers on either side of a claim who spend large amounts of time and money to argue for one side of matter or another. Experts are paid by these these lawyers that further complicate the issue that needs resolution. When experts are paid by one side or another it is not difficult to appreciate that an incentive toward bias could develop. Yet there is a broad, blind eye to this obvious fact. At the top of the pyramid are the judges themselves who are counted on to provide an impartial assessment but whose decisions or the reasons for their decisions are poorly displayed to the public. The documentation of court proceedings by way of public video could expand the public’s access to the actions of the courts but that has never been implemented. In the end deceptions are common mechanisms that exist when a very small number of persons are given the responsibility of protecting the public while having the power to keep important issues hidden.
As matters unfold with the Red Hill Valley Parkway, further evidence may yet be revealed before the public’s expressed disapproval is diminished by the calling of an independent inquiry. The reality is that the selection of an investigating entity does not guarantee a successful resolution. One does not need to look far to understand that the number of titles, the splendour of the robes or membership in elite circles does not guarantee that a just or unbiased investigation will be completed. While not without its drawbacks, the public’s participation through being informed of the investigation’s detailed actions and the public’s debate, remains the best mechanism for illuminating when an investigation becomes biased.
Road surface friction data at the junction between the Lincoln Alexander and the Red Hill Valley Parkway appears to be strange, at best. Before concluding anything there needs to be an explanation.
There has been much uproar over the revelation that a report of testing performed by Tradewinds Scientific in 2013 on the surface of the Red Hill Valley Parkway in Hamilton seemed to have been hidden from the public. That issue may be resolved through some form of investigation. Meanwhile a review of the data contained in the report shows some peculiar results.
The main point deduced from the report is that the road friction values along the Red Hill Valley Parkway appear to be lower than those of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. The friction data of the Red Hill is also below the recommendations set by research conducted in the United Kingdom. But looking at the details leads to some questions about the peculiar results.
For example, the figure below is taken from the Tradewinds Scientific report and shows the values of friction obtained along the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. The data at the far right of the graph is just before it turns into the Red Hill Valley Parkway.
Along the bottom of the figure we can see the distance along which the testing is conducted. So the values go from “0” at the start of the testing to past “9000” metres. It is difficult to determine where the end of the testing is located because the authors have not placed a marker at the end of the graph as they did at the beginning. However one can count the tick marks past the “9000” marker and it would appear that the “10000 ” metre marker would exist at the very end of the graph. The format of the figure would imply that the data approaches the “10000” or 10 kilometre mark as the Lincoln Alexander begins to be named the Red Hill Valley Parkway. So it makes sense to the viewer that the authors truncated this figure at the point where the Lincoln Alexander transitions to the Red Hill. The green line represents the recommended value of “48” and the data is above the recommendation up to the “10000” location of the graph.
However, the next figure shows the data for the Red Hill Valley Parkway. Is there not something strange here?
The caption for that figure reads that testing was performed along the Lincoln Alexander from “A to B” and then along the Red Hill from “B to C”. So the “B” notation is referring to the same location where the Lincoln Alexander testing ends and the Red Hill testing begins.
And this understanding is verified by how the distance is labelled in the figure for the Red Hill data. One can see that it starts at the “10000” marker and this is the same location where the previous graph ended. But look at the purple line that is supposed to show the data from the left wheel location in the left lane. Look back on the first figure and note that at the unmarked “10000” location the friction value was something around “55”. Then returning to the figure of the Red Hill data, at the “10000” marker, the friction shows a value of about “35”. In other words, there are two very different friction values shown for the same “10000” metre location.
One might say that there is a misunderstanding about where the Lincoln Alexander data in the first figure ends. Perhaps it ends at “9900” metres and not at “10000” metres. But even if that were the case, a drop in friction from about 55 to about 35 would have to occur in about 100 metres. Is it a coincidence that the friction values seem rather constant until the specific point where one figure transitions into the other?
With respect to the right wheel path in the right lane, the figures depict this as as the blue line. Again, looking at the first figure for the Lincoln Alexander the data are all above the “48” recommendation. This seems to continue into the first few hundred metres shown for the Red Hill data. Then there is a sudden drop in about 200 metres from about “50” to about “32”.
The previous Director of Engineering, Mr. Gary Moore, was quoted as indicating that these data were inconclusive. While it is possible that the Tradewinds data may contain some unexplained error, this data cannot be described as inconclusive without some technical basis for supporting that description. The data provide a strong indication that something very unusual existed at the point of transition between the Lincoln Alexander and the Red Hill data. The location of that transition needs to be examined in more detail to determine whether it reflects the actual location where the surface of the Lincoln Alexander terminated and the laying of the new surface for the Red Hill started.
So when Mr. Moore referred to the Tradewinds data as inconclusive is that because he had a further basis to make that conclusion? It was reported in the news media that other friction testing was conducted by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) but the report of that testing had not bee made public. So did the MTO testing contain results that disputed the Tradewinds results? Is this why Mr. Moore referred to the data as inconclusive? We do not know. However these are some of the many details that need to be uncovered.