Four teenagers drowned last night when their vehicle came to rest upside down in water on the side of Nelson Street in Miramichi, New Brunswick. This is not an isolated event. We try to highlight these tragic events where possible because many are preventable through inspection of roadways where bodies of water exist nearby. Inappropriate roadside barriers often allow vehicles to pass through them. But often there are no barriers at all. At the Nelson Street site there was a guardrail with an old design whereby the rail was buried in the ground and created a ramp as it rose to full height.

Google Maps view of the collision site identified in the CBC News article about the drownings. It was not spelled out whether the characteristics of the guardrail in the foreground was related to the crash.

Unfortunately the CBC news article showing the site did not make it clear whether the vehicle rode over the barrier.In south-western Ontario there are numerous locations where such tragic events could exist. And many tragedies have occurred in the past without much official concern. It is of relevance that official news agencies and police speak about  the sadness of families and how it is important to keep their privacy. Yet a lack of discussion is often the reason why public momentum is not generated to cause those responsible for roadside safety to conduct proper inspections and make changes to roadside conditions. It is highly likely that in this coming summer season at least one person will drown at a roadside in southern Ontario where inadequate safety features cause a vehicle to leave the road, rollover and come to rest upside down in a body of water. If public concern were to cause an inspection of these roadsides a life could be saved.

A quick review of 21 incidents in just over a year indicates that there were 14 confirmed fatalities while there was no further information on the outcome of several others. The incidents are noted below.

  1. On January 17, 2019 two persons drowned when their vehicle drove into the Colchester Harbour near Windsor, Ontario.
  2. On January 27, 2019 a person drowned when their vehicle drove into the water near Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto.
  3. On January 25 ,2019 a vehicle travelled off the road and fell into a swimming pool at the Courtice Community Complex near Toronto, although no harm was caused to the female driver.
  4. On April 17, 2018, a minivan drove into a flooded ditch at the intersection of Lighthouse and Tecumseh Road near Windsor. Although the van was partially submerged no one was injured.
  5. On April 22, 2018 a teenager died when a vehicle became partially submerged in a water-filled ditch off Border Road in Wallaceburg, Ontario.
  6. On April 22, 2018 driver was drowned when a vehicle became submerged in Big Creek off County Road 42 near Windsor, Ontario.
  7. On August 3, 2018, a Toyota Yaris drove in Lake Ontario near Lake Shore Boulevard and Parliament Street in Toronto. A single person was later found, deceased, in the submerged vehicle.
  8. On Christmas Day, 2018, two persons drowned when their vehicle plunged into a creek south-east of Goderich, Ontario.
  9. On December 4, 2018, a driver drowned when his vehicle drove into the water of Lake Erie near Port Bruce pier.
  10. On December 28, 2018,  a stolen vehicle was found upside down in the Speed River in Cambridge. No information was ever provided with respect to the what happened to the occupants of the vehicle.
  11. On December 30, 2018, one person drowned when his vehicle became submerged in the South Saugeen River near Hanover, Ontario.
  12. On February 21, 2018 a mother and her toddler were swept into the Grand River near Belwood, Ontario. The toddler drowned.
  13. On February 19, 2018, a man died when his vehicle became submerged in a creek in Jarvis, Ontario.
  14. On February 10, 2018 a car was found partially submerged  off of Niagara Parkway in Chippawa, Ontario. A lone occupant was found and transported to hospital but his condition was never revealed.
  15. On June 30, 2018 a vehicle was found submerged in the St. Clair River in Sombra, Ontario. One person was found deceased in the vehicle.
  16. On June 23, 2018 a vehicle drove into Lake Ontario at Ashbridges Bay near Toronto. Two occupants were able to escape without injury before the vehicle sank.
  17. On March 25, 2018 a vehicle plunged into Little Bear Creek northwest of Chatham however the driver was able to escape successfully.
  18. On November 5, 2018 a vehicle plunged into Lake Ontario in Oakville after it struck and drove through a guardrail. One occupant died.
  19. On October 15, 2018 a woman was able to swim to the shore after her vehicle travelled into the Thames River on Town Line Road near Chatham, Ontario.
  20. On October 30, 2018 a Toronto Transit Commissioner supervisor was able to escape his submerging vehicle as it became engulfed in a sink hole near Logan Ave and Commissioners Street in Toronto. The sinkhole was so large that the vehicle became fully submerged and only the glow of its lights could be seen under the water.
  21. On October 30, 2018, a submerged vehicle was located near a public boat launch in Bluffer’s Park in Toronto. No body was found in the vehicle.

This list is probably incomplete as it only represents what news articles have been published by a select group of news media in south-western and south-central Ontario.

The danger of roadside ditches that contain somewhat shallow levels of water is greatly under appreciated. Because of the narrowness of a ditch it does not take much rain or other water sources to bring the water level higher versus a large ditch that can hold more water at a shallower depth. When narrow ditches exist a vehicle is more likely to end up parallel to the length of the ditch and this is a crucial factor in fatality causation. By coming to rest upside down and parallel to a water-filled ditch vehicle occupants have difficulty opening their doors because the steep sides of the ditch prevent that opening. Adding cold weather makes matters worse. And if the event occurs at night it is often difficult to detect the vehicle in a deep and narrow ditch therefore rescue may be greatly delayed.

This photo provided on the OPP twitter account shows what typically happens in relatively small ditches that are filled with water. When temperatures are low it does not take long for a vehicle occupant to die from exposure even if drowning does not occur.

Every year the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is supposed to provide a Road Safety Annual Report which reviews all the collision facts for the particular year. However their delivery of these reports is several years behind. The most recent report showing the full data is for the year 2014. In that year the Ministry reported vehicle “Submersion” based only on whether it was the first harmful event. This data (shown on Page 48) indicated that there were only five submersions and all were property damage incidents. In other words there were no fatalities or injuries resulting from these submersions. That data becomes difficult to reconcile when we have shown in this article that there were at least 14 fatalities associated with vehicle submersions in 2018-19.Thus there can be many ways in which official statistics can provide a very misleading indication of the existence of various road safety problems. The extent of the loss-of-control, sliding into a ditch and rolling over into shallow water does not appear to be documented in any publicly available sources.