The elephant in the room is being ignored again. No sooner did I finish posting an article on the tragic death of a young female driver in a post-collision fire on Highbury Ave near London, Ontario, then another fire in Texas occurred, without any official explanation or acknowledgement.

What has been reported is that a 13-year male, driving a pick-up truck, caused a head-on collision with a 2017 Ford Transit van on Farm-to-Market Road 1788 in Andrews County, Texas. The location was reported to be about half a mile north of State Highway 115 in west Texas.

An Associated Press article on the crash focused on the age of the young male driver whose pick-up truck crossed the roadway centre-line just before the crash. The fact that seemed important to the reporter was that “this was clearly a high-speed collision” quoting NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg. Yet the maximum posted speed for the highway was reported to be 75 mph. So if the pick-up truck was travelling at 85 mph just prior to the collision would that mean that this was a major negligence on the part of the young driver? My many years of documenting average speeds in south-western Ontario has shown that average speeds on any highway are at least 10 km/h over the posted speed and anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of drivers travel 20 or more km/h above the posted speed.

And how would investigators know, with any degree of accuracy, what the speeds of the vehicles were at this early stage in the investigation? Even detailed measurements of vehicle crush and post-impact travel distances would only provide a range of speeds that might easily encompass the 75 mph legal limit.

What seemed less important to the Associated Press reporter was that “The truck’s left front tire, which was a spare tire, also blew out before impact”, as reported by Bruce Landsberg. But that is an uncommon pre-crash factor and could be of no fault of the young driver of the pick-up who may have limited experience with vehicle safety and maintenance.

What is obvious to me from reading the Associated Press article, is how the occurrence of a post-impact fire was minimized. It failed to acknowledge the very obvious fact that many of those who died, likely died from the post-impact fire and not from the severity of the impact itself.

I am not so naïve as to be deceived about the relevance of so many deaths in one vehicle so that I would believe those deaths were from the impact alone. Having studied the patterns of injury from numerous serious and fatal collisions I am acutely aware that, in an impact of a rather voluminous vehicle, it is not easy to kill everyone inside. Instead, each occupant experiences their unique collision based on factors such as their seat positions. The collision experienced by a driver, lets say, is not the same collision that is experienced by a back-seat passenger. That is why we may see the death of the driver but there is a high likelihood that passengers in other parts of the same vehicle might sustain moderate or even minimal injuries. Thus multiple fatalities in the same vehicle, or instances where a high percentage of occupants in the same vehicle sustain fatal injuries, are an alarm bell that should be ringing in the ears of any experienced investigator. It is a sign that the severity of the impact is likely not related to the cause of death of those occupants. But this understanding is foreign to reporters who are unfamiliar with such issues.

It is imperative, as I have continually stated, that the cause of post-impact fires be properly acknowledged as the source of a fatality whenever it occurs. It is imperative that a properly detailed investigation be carried out to uncover the origin and cause of the fire. Often this cannot be done by collision reconstructionists who are unfamiliar with the techniques of fire analysis. Specialized fire investigators need to be called in to make that determination.