Being stopped on Highway 401 is a recipe for disaster and was demonstrated once again in a collision that occurred near Kenesserie Road on Monday morning, June 11, 2018, just east of Chatham, Ontario.
It was reported that the above-pictured vehicle had come to a stop as a result of another collision that occurred earlier. A transport truck coming from behind failed to stop and struck the vehicle pushing it into the median. One need not be an expert to recognize that the extent of crush was such that fatal injuries could easily have occurred. Setting that aside however the lack of major injuries is also not as surprising as one might think.
Looking at the back bumper and right rear wheel it can be seen that these structures were not crushed forward to the extent of the structures above. It is well-known in the collision reconstruction community that the stiffness of passenger vehicles lies at the bumper level and when there is “over-ride” damage from impacts by taller vehicles such as transport trucks, there is a lot of energy dissipation that occurs in the softer structure (sheet metal, etc) resulting in a lot of crush and structural intrusion into the occupant space. Normally structural intrusion is very bad. But in this case there was likely no one in the vehicle except the driver and it can been that the structural intrusion was not as significant at the driver’s seat (even though the angle of the photograph tends to hide that fact). So in this exceptional case, it was advantageous to have the tremendous extent of deformation and crush as this would increase the collision time and thus reduce the acceleration which causes injury. What may not be apparent is that if the car’s structure was extremely stiff and did on crush then the struck vehicle would be accelerated forward in a much faster time and this would increase the acceleration experienced by the struck driver. Never-the-less, it was a lucky occurrence that, even via a minor adjustment to the circumstances, could easily have resulted in fatal injuries to this driver.
At the same time as this incident was being reported, CTV News published an article using OPP statistics indicating that “Fatal transport truck crashes up 25 per cent” over the previous year. As is typical of such inflammatory pronouncements they did not actually tell anyone what the numbers were. So, as an example, if there were two fatal collisions last year, and four collisions this year that would be a 100 per cent increase. But does that mean that we should become hysterical about these numbers? Clearly this could be normal, typical, fluctuation of collision numbers.
As typical the partnership of the OPP with the CTV article places most of the blame for transport truck crashes on truck drivers. In reality, OPP investigations are not as complete or accurate to allow such a broad generalization. In most of the investigations we have examined in the past glaring errors exist such that the facts and analysis gathered from such collisions rarely provide a correct indication of the causes. While driver error cannot be discounted, a properly detailed investigation and analysis often reveals that the causes are far more complicated.
Rear-end impacts on Highway 401 are a typical example of the dangerous events that occur without properly detailed accounting of the factors that lead to them. It requires that the purpose of investigation be adjusted not just to punish drivers, but to scientifically document and analyze incidents to make all users of the highway safe from all potential hazards.