The fact that only minor injuries occurred may seem like a success story, but this is just Russian Roulette. A tractor-trailer struck a construction barrier, rolled over and caught fire on Highway 401 near Winston Churchill Blvd in Mississauga in the afternoon of April 12, 2020. It raised little attention as only Global News covered the story of the OPP Twitter release. In these difficult times of the Corona Virus the comedic response to the news might be that the greatest tragedy was the loss of rolls of paper cargo which were consumed in the fire – perhaps toilet paper. But behind the lack of media attention and sarcastic humour lies a more important issue. This non-incident could have been much more, if not for the luck that a bullet was not in the chamber when we pressed the trigger, only this time.
We spend large sums of money on roadside infrastructure. Not because it is pretty, but because we believe it is functional as it is supposed to reduce costs from damage as well as reducing injuries and deaths. At construction sites concrete barriers are set up to channel vehicular traffic away from work zones so that workers can be safe while also protecting the travelling public from the dangers within the construction zone. The channeling is not just visual, there is a design to those barriers that is supposed to absorb energy as well as to redirect a vehicle’s path while providing a controlled, predictable ride-down. Surely we do not put up just any barrier and cross our fingers that it will do its job. Some scientific study is needed to see how the barrier performs before it is placed in the field. Similarly the arrangement of various notifications must be strictly laid out so drivers approaching a construction site are not surprised by a violation of expectation. When all these matters are done properly vehicles are able to pass through a construction zone with a high degree of success.
Why a truck struck a the construction barrier is unknown. While police have charged the driver with careless driving it is rare that police would examine the layout of the construction site with a reasonable degree of experience and training to come to an accurate understanding whether there was something in that layout that was improper.
Some frames taken from the OPP video of the crash site are shown below.
What is visible in the photos in the aftermath of the crash is that, the truck rode over top of the cushion at the bull-nose of the barrier. This is not uncommon, even though it does nothing to improve the safety of the truck driver. It is also apparent that the truck and trailer became snagged in the barrier system such that the rear wheels and frame of the trailer became detached. What is supposed to happen is that the truck and trailer are to be pressed against the side of the barrier and ride along its length. The friction during this long distance of contact is supposed to bring the vehicle to a gradual and controlled stop. It is apparent that a portion of the truck may have climbed on the concrete barrier and the barrier itself appears to have separated. The truck rotated clockwise and then rolled over to its rest position.
Another concern is that the truck caught fire. Again, this is not a desirable outcome. One can imagine what might happen if the truck was hauling a dangerous cargo that is chemical or explosive. A fire that engulfs the cargo could have huge consequences. While the fire was contained largely at the road tractor this does not mean that all fires will be doused with such success.
In totality, although this collision reportedly resulted in only minor injuries to the truck driver, the consequences could have been much worse. We cannot ignore incidents like these in the belief that they will not come back to haunt us. Persons who like to play Russian Roulette do not live long enough to inform others that it is not a good idea to play will loaded chambers even when some of them are empty.