High publicity crashes in quiet neighbourhoods of London, Ontario create many uninformed conversations “around the dinner table”. But rarely is enough information available for the public to develop an informed opinion as to causes or what needs to be changed or corrected. Here are some recent examples.
Woodman Ave House Impact & Gas Explosion
It was reported that shortly after 2230 hours on August 14, 2019 a single car began travelling the wrong way, eastbound, on the one-way Queens Ave near Quebec Street in London. As the vehicle passed through the block between Quebec St and Woodman Ave, Queens Ave became a two-way roadway therefore it could not be viewed as travelling the wrong way. Eastward Queens Ave terminated at a T-intersection at Woodman Ave, as shown in the Google Maps view below. The vehicle passed through the Woodman intersection and it entered the driveway between two homes on the opposite side of the road. The vehicle struck the gas meter of one of the houses. Emergency personnel were able to remove neighbours from their homes before there was a massive explosion that destroyed several houses. Although no one was killed a firefighter sustained serious injuries as a result of the blast.
The photo below captures some of the dramatic events following the explosion as several houses were leveled and fires had to be contained.
The distance along Queens Ave between Quebec St and Woodman Ave was only about 75 metres. Thus, if the vehicle had made a turn from Quebec St to travel eastward toward Woodman it would be unusual that the vehicle would accelerate to a very high speed.
The City of London reports that Quebec Street has a traffic volume of about 12,000 while Queens Ave has about 5,500 per day. It would seem to be a substantial coincidence that a vehicle travelling the wrong way on Queens and then passes through the intersection of Quebec Street without stopping should escape being involved in an impact with another vehicle. While the incident reportedly occurred at 2230 hours and therefore not at peak time, substantial numbers of vehicles should still be on those roads. But no one has questioned this further.
It was never reported whether the vehicle was travelling at a high speed when it struck the gas metre or whether the result was just due to misfortune. The reports indicated that six emergency personnel were injured along with one citizen but it was not known whether the citizen was the driver of the striking vehicle. Regardless, the injuries of the lone citizen were described as minor and this suggests that the severity of the impact, in terms of the change in velocity, was not large. This fact does not necessarily provide an indication of the ground speed of the vehicle and so this is another area of uncertainty.
Even two days after the blast the area remained closed to the public as clean-up operations were taking place, as shown below.
Two days after the blast an area of blood was located on Queens Ave near the intersection of Quebec Street, as shown in the photo below. The blood pattern indicated that the injured party was moving on the road from the right to the left where he briefly paused resulting in the large quantity of blood on the road. Efforts to cover the wound likely led to the temporary reduction in deposited blood as the person moved onto the roadway curb in the background of the photo. There the injured party likely remained depositing blood on the curb likely before being transported by emergency personnel. Blood deposits are frequently seen at collision sites but not in the magnitude shown in the photo. It is likely that this was related to the injured firefighter who reportedly sustained serious injuries.
A great deal of interest was generated surrounding this crash which was reported throughout Canada. However little or no information was provided with respect to the actions of the driver other than she was a female who was allegedly driving impaired. The word impaired can mean many things, including such simple things like being drowsy from lack of sleep, effects from taking prescription medication or from some form of medical condition. So such descriptions when they are reported by news media provide little help in understanding what was involved. Additional media reports confirmed that the woman driver was allegedly impaired by alcohol.
However even impaired drivers do not always pass through a T-intersection at high speed. The termination of a roadway is quite obvious particularly on urban streets when lighting is of reasonable quality. Below is a Google Maps view of the T-intersection before it was damaged from the explosion. Directly in front of the vehicle’s travel path, located on the far side of the intersection, is a utility pole which has a cobra-head style street lamp. Thus if the lamp was functioning it should have provided substantial visibility of the roadway features indicating the termination of the road.
A similar utility pole is seen on the left side of the photo and this also contained a street lamp which should have illuminated the area of the two stop signs, one on each of the curbs at the T-intersection.
Although the driver may have been impaired, as alleged, no one has questioned whether any of these street lamps were functioning at the time of the crash. The public is quick at being satisfied that the only fact that matters is that a driver was impaired and no further inquiry is necessary. This is how secondary safety problems are not identified which could prevent some collisions, even when a driver is impaired.
A gas metre was located within the driveway located directly in line with the centreline of Queens Ave. To have reached the gas metre the vehicle would have had to veer slightly to the left (somewhat across the centreline of Queens Ave) in order to avoid making direct contact with the houses and allow the vehicle to penetrate into the driveway sufficiently to reach the gas metre. Such facts could be relevant in understanding how and why this driver ended up directing the vehicle along its path.
A safety audit of a roadway should detect the possibility that drivers could pass through a stop sign of a T-intersection as this is not an uncommon occurrence. Those with knowledge of the causes of collisions and their consequences could have detected that the gas metre was exposed to impact at the present site. Many transportation agencies do not conduct enough road inspections and when they do the inspectors do not have sufficient training and experience to detect dangers such as exposed gas metres.
The female driver is scheduled to appear in court on a variety of charges and this will take place over many months, and perhaps years, into the future. When such appearances are held at distant times from the actual incident the public’s interest is lost and few persons remain attached to the story. While further details may be revealed during those court proceedings that is not guaranteed. Many times when a driver pleads guilty no additional information is released and the public is left uneducated.
Wilson Ave (Blackfriars Neighbourhood) Impact of Multiple Buildings
On Sunday, October 27, 2019 at approximately 0330 hours a white Mercedes vehicle was travelling northward along Wilson Ave and approaching the T-intersection at Blackfriars Street in the west-central area of London. A Google Maps view of the neighbourhood is shown below.
As the vehicle approached the intersection at Blackfriars it veered to the left travelling onto the left roadside. It struck a utility pole and then impacted the wall of a commercial a building. It was then deflected and passed through the T-intersection and struck a house on the far side of the intersection. The driver of the Mercedes was reportedly uninjured.
The collision site was visited on the following afternoon. The photo below is a view looking northward along Wilson Ave toward the T-intersection of Blackfriars Street in the background. A mound of earth at the base of the utility pole in the foreground indicates this was one of the two that were struck down and replaced. The vehicle travelled past this pole and collided with the side of the commercial building causing extensive damage. At the T-intersection in the background a house has been boarded up where the vehicle impacted it and came to its final rest position.
The photo below shows the boarded up wall and windows of the commercial building that was struck. Across the T-intersection, in the background, is the struck house where the vehicle came to rest.
The photo below shows a detached wheel that was located in the confines of the barricaded commercial building. This wheel is of a larger size indicating that the striking vehicle was more likely a larger, light truck like an SUV rather than a typical passenger car.
The photo below is looking northward across the T-intersection and toward the boarded up house that was struck at the vehicle’s final rest position.
The photo below is a view looking southward from the T-intersection at Blackfriars Street. This view provides an indication of the length of Wilson Ave as the vehicle would have been approaching the camera position.
The photo below is another view looking northward along Wilson Ave, but zoomed in so that far away distances appear to be closer. Above and to the right of the parked vehicles an orange circle has been created to highlight the presence of a warning sign indicating the presence of a speed bump. The location of that bump is highlighted by a second orange circle on the road surface. One can see that, when there are parked cars, the warning sign is not very visible. And from a distance the speed bump itself is also not very visible.
A closer view of the speed bump is shown in the photo below. There are some markings on the bump indicating that the underside of previous vehicles has made contact with the bump.
However in the close-up view shown below it can be seen that the markings on the bump are old and are not related to a contact that would have occurred one or two days prior. This is an interesting point.
This bump was of sufficient elevation that the undersides of some previous vehicles made contact with it. Yet, the Mercedes that travelled over the bump did not make contact with its underside. Yet, from the damage to the utility poles and buildings it is clear that the Mercedes was travelling at a very high speed, perhaps at highway speed. So if the Mercedes was travelling at highway speed when it passed over this bump, why did its underside not make contact with the bump? Is it because the vehicle had a very high suspension? Or is there another explanation?
The photo below shows another view looking northward and the orange circle and curved arc show the location of a faint, light-coloured line in the pavement that led to the impacted pole in the background. This line was clearly made by the striking vehicle and it indicated that, from the position of the orange circle the Mercedes was already rotating counter-clockwise. It is not clear whether the mark was caused by one of the vehicle’s right side tires or perhaps by the rim of one of those tires.
Now, let us examine some measurements. The distance from the struck utility pole to the start of the light-coloured arc on the road surface was at least 20 metres. The distance from the speed bump to the beginning of the light-coloured arc was about 106 metres. Let us assume for the moment that the Mercedes was travelling at 90 km/h when it crossed the speed bump and that it did not lose any speed up to the point where it began creating the light-coloured arc. At 90 km/h the Mercedes travels about 25 metres every second, so it travels the distance of 106 metres in about 4 seconds. Is it possible that, by crossing over the speed bump at high speed something happened which resulted in the vehicle beginning to produce the noted mark on the pavement and that the Mercedes began to rotate counter-clockwise from this crossing? From previous investigations such a time of 4 seconds is not unusual.
But why would the Mercedes be travelling over the speed bump at highway speed? This is not the only speed bump on the road. In fact, another bump exists about 140 metres to the south. And there are other speed bumps further to the south of that. So is it possible that the Mercedes keeps travelling over all these speed bumps at highway speed? Or does the driver go slowly over the previous speed bumps, than believes that there are no more and then accelerates hard in the 140 metres before he encounters the last speed bump that he was not expecting? One cannot say.
However it leads to the question of how effective speed bumps can be when a driver is reckless or speeding because of some other motivation, such as attempting to avoid police.
While speed bumps may be effective in slowing the speed of the average driver that may not be what we are trying to accomplish. It would seem that we would be interested in having an effect on the actions of reckless and dangerous drivers who are likely to endanger the lives of average citizens on the roads or roadsides. But if these reckless drivers drive over speed bumps at highway speed what good are the bumps in providing this additional safety?
This is an incident that requires further details that are not available. The details may be available to investigating police but those details do not reach the general public. And it is the general public that decides who represents them by way of elected officials and what those representatives are expected to do. And without the details and a good explanation of what caused this collision (and similar collisions), members of the public with strong opinions (and not much understanding) sway the direction in which counter-measures take place.
Jalna Boulevard House Impact
In the early morning hours of February 21, 2020, it was reported that, after stealing a pick-up truck, three occupants of the vehicle were reportedly involved in two impacts, one involving a police cruiser. Later, at approximately 0300 hours the pick-up truck was travelling along a curve of Jalna Boulevard, just west of Sholto Drive in south London when the vehicle veered to the left, off the road surface, and struck a house. The truck then rolled over and came to rest, upside down, on top of a parked vehicle, as shown in the photo below. All three occupants fled the collision site but were later arrested.
A photo of Jalna Boulevard and the surrounding neighbourhood is shown in the Google Maps view shown below. The orange circle shows the location where the vehicle struck the house.
A closer view of the area of impact is shown below. Again, the orange circle identifies the location of the struck house.
The Google Maps view shown below shows the street view of the curve of Jalna Boulevard. As the vehicle was rounding the curve in the background it travelled toward the outside of the curve and struck the house.
The photo below shows the curve about 12 hours after the collision. There were no tire marks visible on the road surface. The vehicle exited the roadway at the approximate location just past the two blue-recycling boxes located on the left curb.
The photo below shows the tire marks in the snowbank created as the vehicle rotated counter-clockwise toward the house. Further tire marks are visible on the driveway in the background.
The tire marks can be seen in the driveway, in the photo below, as the vehicle continued toward its impact with the house in the background. Looking at the tire marks one might believe that they were caused by the left and right side tires of the vehicle but this is incorrect. The tire mark to the left was caused by the right front tire while the one on the right side of the photo was caused by the right rear tire. This is because, as the vehicle rotated, it was sliding with its right side leading in the direction it was travelling.
The close-up view of the tire mark caused by the right rear tire shows typical, diagonal, striations within the mark. Such striations indicate that the tire is rotating at the time that it is also sliding. The angle of the striations within the tire marks can indicate further details such as whether the tire was being accelerated or braked when the mark was being made.
Another view of the right rear tire mark is shown in the photo below. Here we can see that the asphalt has been gouged along the right side of the tire mark. Such gouging is typical when a tire is pulled off of the rim and the wheel rim begins to make contact with surface. When such gouges occur there is greater resistance to motion and this often begins the process of vehicle rollover.
The classic sign of rim gouging is very obvious in the close-up view of the right rear tire mark shown in the photo below.
Overall, the collision scene showed a very dramatic conclusion the event as the red pick-up truck was found lying upside down on top of a white parked car. This chaos drew the attention of many television viewers, newspaper readers and social media sites. In reality the collision with the house was not of a severe nature in terms of the change-in-velocity that is related in injury causation. Ye the property damage, much like in the previous two examples, was large and costly.
Discussion and Summary
This review of three, high-publicity collisions that recently occurred in London, Ontario demonstrates that some drivers are very divergent from the rest of the population in terms of the recklessness of their actions. While there are attempts throughout North America and beyond to create levels of safety with the idealistic hope of bringing collisions to a level of “Vision Zero”, there is a limit to what can be achieved with drivers of the calibre shown in these three examples. Persons who steal vehicles, attempt to escape police and drive at very high speeds through quiet neighbourhoods are difficult to manage and control within any transportation system. A recognition is needed that, within our societies, subgroups of abnormal individuals maybe growing. While our overall societies may be heading toward lower rates of injury and fatality, a smaller segment of abnormal drivers may be flourishing without much attention being paid to that possibility.
As an example, safety measures such as reductions in speed limits in school zones may appear to be beneficial as they appear to have an effect on the average speed of observed vehicles. However it may not be this large segment of law-abiding society that should be of focus. The focus should be on the small segment of abnormal drivers who disregard whatever speed limit is set and will speed well beyond those limits, drive distracted, drive impaired, and will attempt to evade police when an attempt is made to stop them.
More detailed study is needed of these small sub-groups of abnormal drivers. Yet there is little or no information being passed onto the general public with respect to the details of the actions of these abnormal drivers. Change and correct approaches are difficult to achieve when the vast percentage of the public has little or no understanding of what is taking place on the public’s transportation systems.