Under normal circumstances accountability is not a difficult concept to understand: If someone’s actions have caused someone’s death they should be accountable for it. Why is that principle so hard to follow in motor vehicle deaths? Let us look at the following example.

From articles posted by CTV News London and the London Free Press it was reported that at around 2300 hours on Friday, March 18, 2022 the OPP responded to information that a vehicle had left “the roadway” and entered the Maitland River south of Ethel, Ontario. Both news articles reported that a body was subsequently recovered from a submerged pick-up truck at 1800 hours on Saturday, March 19th.  Neither article provided any information as to where the vehicle entered the water. In their defense these were the only news agencies to bother with providing any information to the public about the drowning. Many prominent news agencies provided no mention of the drowning.

The London Free Press article reported that the submerged pick-up truck was found south of Ethel. At best, CTV news reported that police responded to Ethel Line and that the pick-up truck was recovered south of Ethel, Ontario. But there are two sites where a vehicle could possibly enter the water of the Maitland River south of Ethel, as shown in the map below.

The area near Ethel, Ontario where a drowning occurred in the Maitland River on Friday, March 18, 2022.

A Google Maps view of the Ethel Bridge site is shown below. It shows well-constructed guard (guide) rails on both sides of the bridge abutments and these rails are properly secured to the ends of the concrete abutments. At first glance it seemed unlikely that a vehicle would pass through this location and into the water. So the roadway maintenance personnel and County officials seemed to have done their proper job here.

View, looking south, along Ethel Line at the Ethel Bridge located just south of Ethel, Ontario. This bridge crossing the Maitland River looks to be in good condition and contains properly anchored guard (guide) rails positioned on both ends of the bridge.

The second site is shown in another Google Maps view shown below. This is a view looking south and the Maitland River is hidden in the trees along the right side of this view. Here the situation is of more concern. There is no barrier here between the roadway and the Maitland River. There is a downslope from the roadway to river leading to a further concern.

View, looking south, along Ethel Line. The Maitland River is hidden in the trees on the right side of this road. Note there is no barrier here and there appears to be a substantial grassy slope leading from the roadside down toward the Maitland River.

So is the site of the plunge into the water relevant? Well it depends of whether you understand the concept of accountability.

Let us deviate from this example for a moment and consider the successful launch of a rocket toward a moon landing. NASA is an organization with many employees with incredible skills. Each employee’s actions are responsible for getting a rocket to the moon. The guy who supplies the rocket fuel is just one employee. If the rocket-fuel guy does not supply the fuel the mission fails. Thus he has an important responsibility as he is accountable toward making sure the rocket fuel is available. If the rocket fuel is not available the actions of hundreds of other employees do not matter, the rocket will not reach the moon. Surely it is understandable that the successful implementation of a difficult task is reliant on all persons in the plan being accountable for each of their tasks. Is this so difficult to understand?

Well the successful implementation of a road safety plan is no different than that rocket launch to the moon. The successful implementation of a road safety plan also requires that the actions of many persons, and agencies, act in an accountable manner in order to reach that safety goal. We often refer to the three foundations of road safety: The human, the vehicle and the environment, or HVE for short.

Those accountable for the human factors may be those that drive a vehicle. In order for the road safety strategy to work the driver must drive at a proper speed, must not be distracted, must not be impaired and so on. The driver is accountable for these things.

Those accountable for the vehicle may be the vehicle manufacturers who must build a reasonably safety vehicle. Air bags must deploy at an appropriate timing and severity. Wheels must not break off. Steering wheels must change the direction of the vehicle reliably. Those persons who work at federal institutions such as NHTSA or Transport Canada must also have a regulatory role to play. Vehicle technicians must be accountable for providing correct maintenance procedures to a vehicle. And so on.

And there are those accountable for the environment in which the vehicle travels. This refers to the roadway system and how it is designed, maintained and signed. It refers to those roadside objects constructed to lessen the likelihood of a significant injury should the driver or vehicle fail in their obligations.

The concept of accountability applies to each and every individual in this chain of responsibilities because, if one fails, we all fail. No rocket fuel, no successful launch. It is that simple.

When a rocket fails to launch NASA does not just simply and hurriedly build another rocket. That would be stupid would it not? NASA would investigate why the launch failed. It would look at all the actions that were taken or not taken. If the rocket fuel guy failed to supply the fuel NASA would not simply blame the guy who supplies the oxygen, or the guy who is responsible for the rocket’s structure, or whatever. Recognizing that the fuel was not supplied NASA would make sure this was corrected for the next launch. And no need to build a new rocket.

So what investigation should be carried out when a fatal collision occurs? Should the same sort of investigation be carried out? Should investigators follow along and note where the failures occurred? Should investigators look at the Human, the Vehicle and the Environmental factors in totality? If the guy responsible for the Environmental factors has failed to ensure a safe site should that be ignored? It should be ridiculous to ask that question but the reality is just that: Environmental factors that fail are not investigated and documented in fatal motor vehicle crashes. And fatal motor vehicle crashes continue, and missions to improve road safety fail, on a regular basis.

Let us return to our example of the fatally drowned driver in the Maitland River. The fact that the vehicle entered the water is a failure of the environment where the entrance occurred. But has this failure been acknowledged? No. Not only has it not been acknowledged it has not even been mentioned or identified where the failure occurred. Why did police not identify the specific location where the pick-up truck entered the water? And when the news reporters filed their articles for the public why did they not comprehend that the location where the vehicle entered the water was relevant? Are you not accountable for informing the public when the lack of installation of a roadside barrier, or the improper installation of a barrier, has led to a drowning death?

In fact this evening, March 21, 2022 CTV News provided a video segment where they included some video footage of the location where the pick-up truck was either found or entered the water. Indeed the location shown in the video footage was at the Ethel Bridge, and it seemed to show an area on the west and on the south side of the bridge. Subsequently I returned to Google Maps and examined the guard (guide) rail on the south side of Ethel Bridge and the two images below show what I uncovered.

View, looking north, along Ethel Line toward Ethel Bridge. CTV news video seemed to show the area to the left (west) of the bridge where the pick-up truck may have entered the water. But note how the rail on the right (east) is much longer than the rail on the left (west). Why was the rail so short on the west side of the bridge?

View, looking north at the guard (guide) rail on the west side and south of the Ethel Bridge. The rail is very short and much shorter than the length of rail on the east side. Why was this short rail installed instead of the longer length on the east?

Why have police not commented on how the vehicle entered the water, supposedly at the bridge, and somehow bypassed the protections of the guard (guide) rail? It should have been obvious to any untrained eye that the shortness of the rail would be a factor in whether or not a vehicle could enter the river. These are the ways in which road safety hazards are bypassed and allowed to exist, undetected, because those responsible for the public’s safety fail to protect the public’s safety.

As I have said before, Vision Zero is a marvelous propaganda campaign. Many experts quote how we must focus on reducing a vast number of deaths by the year 2030. But Vision Zero is doomed to failure when politics and corruption prevents the identification of those factors that continue to cause fatalities because those accountable for those factors are sacred cows, untouchable in the field and unidentifiable to the public. Indeed, road safety is rocket science: the rocket will never get off the ground because the rocket fuel guy continually fails to fill the tank.