How and why did a vehicle catch fire after striking this barrier terminal on Highway 401 just west of Toronto? Why is there a hole in the middle of the hazard sign at the terminal?

It is never a good thing when police and news media do not focus the public’s attention to obvious safety issues.

On December 9, 2022 the OPP Twitter account posted several photos relating to collision on Highway 401 near Whites Road just west of Toronto. These photos showed a burning vehicle. Not far from the vehicle was a damaged energy attenuation device (a crushable terminal located at the end of a concrete barrier). When impacted this device is supposed to crush/collapse in a controlled manner such that kinetic energy possessed by the striking object (vehicle) is dissipated. A similarly controlled crush on the front end of a modern vehicle will dissipate additional kinetic energy. All these things, when working together, properly reduce the likelihood that a vehicle occupant will sustain serious injury, or worse.

In the OPP photos we see that the striking vehicle caught fire and, although firemen put out the fire, it was too late. The vehicle was completely consumed. The only portions of the vehicle remaining were the bare metals.

At no point in the OPP description, or in any comments by the public, was there any mention of the obvious safety problems in this result. It is as if no one is able to comprehend that barriers and energy attenuation devices are supposed to make collision results better, not worse. The obvious problem with the result is that if any vehicle occupants were unable to escape from the vehicle they would be consumed by the fire. And there are numerous examples in significant collisions where extrication procedures by rescue personnel are needed because an occupant is trapped in a vehicle and cannot escape.

Is it acceptable that vehicles should catch fire after impacting an energy attenuation device? Is this the result that is the norm in the developed world?

The lack of comment is used as a method of informing the public that there is nothing wrong here. The public need not no anything further. All is as it should be.

Almost universally, throughout the developed world, roadside hardware must undergo compliance testing to ensure that it will perform to the specifications required by a roadway authority. Those specifications are created so that the hardware will prevent or reduce the level of collision severity that leads to road user injury and death. This process is costly but accepted because of the benefit that is the result. In the present scenario we are led to believe that vehicles catching fire after a barrier impact is the norm. Nothing wrong here. This system and vehicle have both performed properly. Not everyone is that naïve to accept that assertion.