There has been an improvement in recent years in the reporting of collision events by police agencies such as the OPP. Twitter posts by the OPP include some basic photos of the site and vehicles involved. The viewing of these photos is not just a matter of morbid curiosity but it allows for independent agencies such as Gorski Consulting to provide further assessments and cautions about safety issues that may not be obvious to the general public.
Unfortunately, there continues to exist a strange pre-occupation in providing misleading information by police and news media that is not helpful to anyone. In the present case the OPP provided a photo (shown above) of the collision-involved vehicle that reportedly rolled over on Hwy 403 near Winston Churchill Boulevard in Mississauga, Ontario. That submission was helpful. However the circumstances by which this vehicle came into difficulty should have been explained. Whether it is the fault of the OPP or the news media is not clear. But the combination of the two has resulted in a failure to reveal certain aspects of the fatality that the public ought to know.
While the collision was reported as a rollover, it was likely more complicated than that. The environment of Hwy 403 presents a large area of level road surface which provides a safety benefit to road users, even if a vehicle rolls over. That level surface gives the opportunity for a rolling vehicle to continue its roll without any sudden impacts or snagging that might occur in an environment of an uneven surface. The bottom line is that in most simple rollovers the vehicle decelerates at a very moderate level in the range of 0.5 g. That deceleration is often lower that what one could expect from maximum braking. So the deceleration, in itself, is not dangerous as the vehicle may reduce its speed to final rest over many seconds, depending on its initial speed. So what we should expect in a simple rollover on a Highway such as the 403 is a situation that could be quite benign, provided that the occupants of a vehicle remain inside it and there is no structural intrusion into where the occupants are seated. It should be somewhat surprising therefore that the female driver of the vehicle was pronounced dead. While rollovers can be unpredictable, some explanation should have accompanied the reporting of this incident as to why a fatality occurred.
The benefit of social media such as Twitter is that we can actually hear alternative and independent explanations of what happened and such was the case here. An independent witness to the collision identified on Twitter as “ABerezuk” reported that:
“I saw it happen. The Jeep in the left lane heading on the 407 at the 407/403 split westbound. At the last second they leaned changed to the right lane. Then over onto the shoulder before the Barrels/Median. I believe they were focused on merging back into the 403 when they simply ran out of room. At the last second he tried to avoid the barrels. Hit them and started to roll. Came to a stop middle lane right in front of White hatchback. I think a VW.”
Never mind the specifics of what was mentioned above as some may be unclear or not completely accurate. What is valuable to know is that the vehicle struck “the barrels” and then rolled over. That is an important point. This indicates that this may not have been a simple rollover as described by police and official news media.
One only needs to examine the various accident photos at the site and the OPP photos to realize that there appears to have been some effort to prevent seeing the view of the struck barrier. In one of the news media photos a large fire truck was placed between the photographer and the struck barrier. In other instances the site photos were arranged in such a way to prevent showing the fact that the vehicle’s path passed through the location of the barrier. Such acts do not create a relationship of trust that the public should expect from official reporters of a death.
We provide “barrels” and other devices on roadsides and medians in order to the reduce the severity of collisions, not to increase their severity. While much research goes into placement of the proper types of systems that may be of greatest benefit, they do not work perfectly in every collision situation. Also not all systems are properly tested and the general public sometimes become the guinea pigs for those tested, or untested, systems that fail. That is unfortunate but it is a reality. What we can do to reduce such tragedies is to identify situations where such devices might not have worked as well as expected. That may not be the fault of the designers or the installers or the maintainers of the roadway. But we simply cannot know where the problem lies if we do not conduct a thorough investigation and if the public is not made aware that a problem may exist.
One does not have to venture far back in history to recall the unfortunate instances where society failed to act swiftly to prevent the death of a number of human guinea pigs. Lap belts, over-powered air bags, GM ignition switches, the list goes on. Similar problems exist on the roads and roadsides that need to be identified so that corrections can be made to reduce the number of those future human guinea pigs.