This article deals with the McElhanney collision site safety review of the Humboldt Broncos multiple fatal bus collision in Saskatchewan on April 6, 2018.
Issues of Concern With Respect to the McElhanney Report on the Safety of the Humboldt Broncos Collision Site
by Zygmunt M. Gorski, Gorski Consulting, January 15. 2019
The monumental tragedy of the multiple deaths that occurred on April 6, 2018 when a northbound bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team collided with a westbound tractor trailer at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 in Saskatchewan cannot be expressed in words. When such tragedies occur there are understandable emotions that direct observers in many directions for divergent reasons. The understanding of what caused the crash and who was responsible for its consequences is an important matter that cannot be set aside. While it may cause anguish to those directly affected there is also a responsibility of our society to ensure that future tragedies like these are not repeated.
Yet understanding what caused the crash and who was responsible cannot be known until the essential details of the police investigation are revealed. Police have indicated they will not reveal that evidence as matters of a criminal trial are unfolding.
When the cause of such a tragedy is not disclosed the public’s emotions lead to conclusions based on whatever evidence remains, as minimal as that evidence may be. Unfortunately, this is what has happened for the past 9 months.
While everyone awaited the resolution of the criminal trial it was reported that the Saskatchewan Ministry of Transportation retained the services of a private consulting firm, McElhanney Consulting Services, to assess the safety of the intersection. The McElhanney Report, dated November, 2018 became publicly available on the Saskatchewan Ministry website even though the evidence from the police investigation remains undisclosed.
As a road safety and accident reconstruction consultant for the past 38 years this author has conducted a variety of investigations while functioning as a Transport Canada contracted accident investigator, an accident reconstruction consultant with an Ontario forensic engineering firm, and as the sole proprietor of an accident reconstruction and road safety research firm. In my review of the developments surrounding the Humboldt Broncos bus crash I have been an independent observer with no affiliation or obligation to any party.
As a result of my independence I recognise the truth of the comments and speculations that have been made surrounding this collision. While the focus has been on some facts and factors, others have been left ignored and unrevealed.
The authors of the McElhanney Report have indicated the limited scope to their report which focuses on the post-collision safety of the intersection. These authors have achieved some success in providing a detailed review on many safety aspects. However many readers misunderstand that the content of the McElhanney report cannot be used to explain how and why the Humboldt Broncos collision occurred. As stated, without the availability of the essential evidence that was documented in the police investigation such an explanation cannot be performed. Furthermore, in my view, some of the content of the report is misleading. It is therefore my intent to provide my comments on the contents of the McElhanney Report along with further analyses that will provide a clearer understanding of my concerns.
- Delay of Documentation
Site visits were conducted by representatives of McElhanney Consulting Services on August 30 and 31, 2018. These dates were more than four months after the collision date. Such a delay may be of less importance to some aspects of the McElhanney review that are unlikely to be affected by that delay. However the occurrence of the delay is not inconsequential . When site visits are conducted too late after an incident there must be a concern that the facts and evidence gathered from the site may be altered and may not represent the safety status of the site at the time of the incident. As an example, on page 24 of their report the McElhanney authors confirmed that the posted speed limit on both highways had been temporarily reduced to 60 km/h due to the increased traffic and pedestrians visiting a roadside memorial. Other important changes may have occurred and this cannot be known without obtaining the details of the police investigation and comparing that to what is contained in the McElhanney report.
- Lack of Essential Police Investigation Data
Attempts by McElheanny representatives to contact local police who were involved in the investigation of the crash and in monitoring the roads near the intersection were reported to be generally unproductive. The authors reported that they had some success in the response of the local Nipawin RCMP detachment which indicated that no driver behaviour concerns were identified by the detachment. However the RCMP Major Crimes Unit and the Traffic Services Unit both refused to discuss the incident due to their ongoing investigation.
The lack of cooperation by the investigating police was with respect to a matter that needed to be addressed by the elected representatives of the people of the Province of Saskatchewan and employees working under the direction of those elected representatives. Failure to obtain cooperation of the investigating police indicates a major shortcoming in the McElhanney authors’ ability to obtain essential evidence needed to assess the safety of the studied intersection.
That shortcoming is also evident in the McElhanney authors’ evaluation of the other multiple-fatal collision that occurred in 1997. It is apparent that the McElhanney authors did not obtain police investigation materials related to that fatal collision. That is apparent since their reference to the particulars of that collision was based on media reports: “Media reports indicate that the eastbound vehicle failed to stop at the stop-control and travelled into the path of the oncoming southbound vehicle”. But what did the official investigation of that crash reveal? Would that not be important to know rather than relying on the accident reconstruction expertise of the news media? The authors needed to confirm that they did not obtain any police investigation materials related to that collision as that is an important fact in considering the degree to which their findings can be relied upon.
- Tainted Observational Data
The McElhanney authors wrote:
“Traffic video footage from approximately 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM on Thursday, August 30, 2018 and from 9:45 AM to 10:30 AM on Friday, August 31, 2018 was reviewed to identify vehicle conflicts and driving infractions at the intersection to identify near miss incidents or other characteristics that may help identify potential safety issues. The following conflicts/infractions were identified within the review period:
- -Two (2) eastbound vehicles and one (1) westbound vehicle performed a “rolling stop”.
- -An eastbound left-turn vehicle failed to yield the right of way to a westbound vehicle after both had stopped at the stop signs.”
Gorski Consulting has been engaged in a substantial number of videotaped assessments of vehicle stopping motions at intersections. Much like the reported testing by McElhanney those documentations have occurred for periods of about 2 hours. Based on my experience it would be clear that an intersection such as the one described in the McElhanney report would contain a high percentage of rolling stops or non-stops. The difference between rolling stops and non-stops depends on one’s accepted definition however non-stops would generally involve a higher speed of the subject vehicle than rolling stops. This action occurs because, when cross traffic is sparse and does not appear to be within the relevant vicinity of the intersection, drivers do not recognize the need to come to a full stop.
In Figure 5-3 of their report the McElhanney authors provided data regarding the hourly traffic volume passing through the intersection. This figure indicated that about 35 to 60 traffic units could be expected to enter the intersection via Highway 335 during the hours that they conducted their studies. This would suggest that their two and a quarter hours of videotaping should have documented at least 70 traffic units or as many as 150 traffic units or more. When the McElhanney authors reported what they have in the above caption they failed to inform readers that their data did not match what should have been expected. The observation of just two rolling stops over a period of 2.25 hours of documentation and up to 150 data points should have produced greater numbers of rolling stops and non-stops. The reporting of this data without this explanation creates a misunderstanding which suggests to readers that the intersection, and drivers’ use of it, is exceptionally safe. In contrast what the results may suggest is that the data is likely tainted by the fact that the posted speed limit had been temporarily changed and users of the road were aware of the highly publicized collision that occurred there. These drivers’ behaviours were likely being influenced by the fact that this collision was broadcast worldwide and continues to be publicized as caused by a driver who failed to stop at the noted location where the McElhanney videotaping was being conducted. This is a confound which demonstrates how data taken from a site after a significant incident can become affected by that incident and conclusions based on these observations must be treated with caution.
- Inappropriately Small Collision Sample
The McElhanney authors reported that a total of six intersection related collisions occurred at the studied intersection between 1990 and 2017. Another 14 collisions occurred within 500 metres of the intersection between 1990 and 2017. Eleven pages of the report were devoted to discussing the details of these collisions. In my view the two samples of collisions contained far too few data points to allow any reliable conclusions to be drawn from them.
As an example of the problem, the authors indicated that the severity of the intersection collisions was as follows: 2 Property Damage collisions, 3 Personal Injury collisions and 1 Fatal collision. The authors then indicated that this translated to the following percentages: Property Damage 33%, Personal Injury 50% and Fatal 17%. I have no readily available information about collision severities in the Province of Saskatchewan however the Province of Ontario data provides a similarly large dataset and there is no reason why the severity distributions should be vastly different between the two provinces. In the latest available data taken from the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (2014) it was noted that there were 217,557 reportable collisions in Ontario and this total was comprised of 178,833 Property Damage collisions, 38,240 personal injury collisions and 484 Fatal collisions. Transferring the Ontario data into percentages, 82.2% were Property Damage collisions, 17.6% were Personal Injury collisions and 0.2 % were fatal collisions. Comparing this Ontario data to the subject intersection would demonstrate that the studied intersection was far more dangerous than average because it generated 50% Personal Injury collisions versus the 17.6% in all of Ontario. And similarly, the 17% fatal collisions at the site was far greater than the 0.2% for all of Ontario. This rate of fatal collisions does not take into account the occurrence of the Humboldt Broncos collision. Yet, in the Conclusions section of their report the McElhanney authors indicated “…the location does not have a high overall frequency of collisions, including high severity collisions”. Well that is clearly not the case. If the McElhanney assessment is based on the collision data then the intersection has a much higher rate of injury and fatal collisions than what should be expected. So should I be successful in raising that argument? I do not believe so. Clearly, when there are so few observations they cannot be used to draw conclusions about the safety of the intersection. A lengthy discussion of these few observations creates confusion and misunderstandings in the vast majority of readers who do not possess the specialized knowledge to recognize these problems.
- Design Speed and Posted Speed.
In their description of the character of Highway 35 the McElhanney authors noted (Section 4.1) that “…the highway has a design speed of 120 km/h and a posted speed limit of 100 km/h”.
In their description of the character of Highway 335 the McElhanney authors noted (Section 4.2) that “…the highway has a design speed of 110 km/h and a posted speed limit of 100 km/h”.
In their manual entitled “Manual of Geometric Design Standards for Canadian Roads” (1986), the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC), made several references to Design Speed and Posted Speed. Some of these notations are of significance to this discussion.
With respect to Design Speed the TAC provided the following description:
“Design speed is the speed selected for the purposes of design and correlation of the geometric features of a road and is a measure of the quality of the design offered by the road. It is sometimes considered to be the highest continuous speed at which individual vehicles can travel with safety on a road when weather conditions are so favourable and traffic density is so low that the safe speed is determined by the geometric features of the road.”
With respect to the selection of design speed for rural conditions the TAC provided the following description:
“Driver behaviour is conditioned by the expectations of the characteristics and quality of the road ahead. Expectations are, in turn, predicated on the driver’s perception of the prevailing topographic, environmental, traffic and climatic conditions. Where severe topographic conditions or surrounding development are encountered, drivers expect to travel at lower speeds and are more likely to adjust to geometric design consistent with a lower design speed than where there is no apparent reason for it. The driver recognizes or senses a logical speed for the condition based on his knowledge of the system, his appraisal of the ruggedness of the terrain, and the extent, density and size of building development; which he subconsciously relates to the road and its quality. Drivers do not adjust their speeds to the classification of the highway, but to the physical limitations and the prevailing traffic conditions. Thus the driver largely accepts the speed characteristics as determined by the geometry of the road, to the extent that the selected design speed is reasonable.”
With respect to the selection of a posted speed the TAC provided the following description:
“Posted speed is frequently set at 10 km/h less than design speed on the basis; the design will provide a measure of latitude for drivers exceeding the posted speed by that amount. In this way, the design speed will provide an acceptable level of safety for all but the reckless driver, for whom it is not reasonable to design.”
With respect to Highway 35, the McElhanney authors acknowledged the design speed of 120 km/h and the Posted Speed of 100 km/h. The TAC defines the Design speed “as considered to be the highest continuous speed at which individual vehicles can travel with safety”. Thus it should have been theoretically possible for drivers of northbound vehicles on Highway 35 to travel at a continuous speed of 120 km/h in safety while considering the limitations of unfavourable weather and traffic conditions. However, is that true? Could the Humboldt Broncos bus travel toward the intersection of Hwy 335 at 120 km/h in safety? If not then the posted speed of 100 km/h ought to have been reduced to the level where that safe travel could be accomplished. As will be shown in the following discussion on the intersection sight triangle, a speed of 100 km/h could not be accomplished in safety on the northbound approach to the intersection. Representatives of the Saskatchewan department of transportation ought to have recognized that fact 21 years before the Humboldt Broncos collision when a collision occurred at the intersection in 1997. In that 1997 collision six persons were killed. An examination of the intersection should have been carried out at that time and the safety problems that existed should have been corrected.
- Inappropriate Intersection Sight Triangle
The previously mentioned TAC manual made the following notation with respect to intersection sight triangles:
“From each approach to an intersection, sufficient sight distance along each intersection leg to allow vehicle operators to see approaching vehicles in time to avoid collision is required.
The minimum sight triangle required for given conditions depends upon the local road users, the characteristics of the vehicles and the vehicle speeds. The road user needs sufficient time, to respond to a situation and take action, for example to apply the brakes.
The sight triangle calculations are used to determine building setbacks at intersections or to determine whether an obstruction such as a sign, a hedge or a building is to be removed at the intersection of roads. If an obstruction cannot be removed, positive traffic control devices are required.”
With respect to conclusions about how and why the Humboldt Broncos collision occurred the primary issue of concern, the intersection sight triangle, was not reached until page 34 of the McElhanney report.
The McElhanney report discusses the status of the intersection sight triangle with respect to their site visit on August 30, 2018, which was over 4 1/2 months after the subject collision. It does not reference the contribution of the sight triangle characteristics to the Humboldt Broncos collision. Again, this is because they reported that the scope of their assignment was to assess the safety of the intersection in general. Yet, in the absence of the evidence from the police investigation readers of this report use it to draw their conclusions.
The McElhanney report refers to Saskatchewan’s “Standard Plan No 20640” as a recommendation for what sight triangles should exist at various classes of intersections. The use of the word “recommendation” is at issue. While I do not have a copy of the document from which the citation was taken I suspect that it refers to an adopted policy and not just a recommendation (A copy of the relevant figure from the McElhanney report is shown below). While there may be various references such as those published by the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) that discuss certain recommended practices, it is the Saskatchewan government’s responsibility to develop policies which are not recommendations. Policies are laws, for want of a better word. With respect to intersection sight triangles, the Saskatchewan government must have a policy in place to control how those sight triangles will be defined and regulated.
Such a policy is needed so that, when a planned development encroaches into the area that needs to remain clear of obstructions it will be denied. It needs to be denied because of the understanding that allowing view obstructions within the triangle could cause collisions like the one involving the Humboldt Broncos bus. Not only must the policy apply to restricting the actions of individual citizens, the policy must also apply to the Transportation Ministry itself and the lands under its control. Much like individuals whose behaviour on the road is controlled by laws restricting alcohol impairment or maximum speed, transportation departments that are given a monopoly in determining the safety characteristics of the roads and highways under their jurisdiction must also live by pre-assigned laws which are their policies. Not having such laws in place would mean that they could never be held accountable for the failures in their decisions and actions.
Evidence that the “Standard Plan No. 20640” is a mandatory requirement is demonstrated by the language in the “Notes” at the lower portion of the page. For example Note 1 indicates:
“For permit requirements and clearing of existing obstructions the X and Y distances are applicable”.
This wording does not indicate that when someone applies for a permit to build within the sight triangle the Saskatchewan authority states to the applicant: “You are within your rights to build where you wish but we recommend that you not build within the sight triangle”. Instead the wording would seem to indicate that any obstructions within the sight triangle will not be permitted and the permit will not be allowed.
And similarly in Note 2 which reads:
“A stop sign is required when new or existing obstructions fall within a triangle formed by using sight distances equal to X and Y’ “.
Again, the wording refers to a stop sign that is required, not recommended.
Thus the McElhanney report cannot refer to the laws that must exist to ensure public safety as “recommendations”. The establishment of a policy regarding the characteristics of sight triangles at intersections is essential to the safety of the travelling public. When a driver makes a mistake of passing through a stop sign, the roadway design must take that possibility into account because of the dire consequences that could result if it is not taken into account. This is clearly stated in the TAC citation shown earlier.
The provision of adequate visibility on the approach to an intersection enables both drivers the opportunity to take evasive actions that can avoid or lessen the severity of a crash. That important point needs to be made clear.
The sight triangles in the McElhanney report were demonstrated via a figure that is reproduced as Figure 1 below. According to the Saskatchewan policy the area in blue that is intersected with the red-hatching is the area that should have been clear of any visibility obstructions. What the McElhanney report failed to emphasize is the large divergence between the Saskatchewan policy and the existing conditions. It is not that the existing conditions were just slightly divergent from the Saskatchewan policy, the existing conditions were vastly divergent from the Saskatchewan policy as is clearly visible in the McElhanney diagram. The correction of this divergence cannot be reported as an optional “recommendation” as if it is a non-essential option left to the discretion of the local authority. That divergence was likely a material, causal factor in the death of 16 innocent persons.
Figure 1: Sight triangles produced in the McElhanney report as they existed on August 30, 2018.
The McElhanney report also produced a similar figure showing the sight triangles after the Saskatchewan department of Transportation cleared out the trees that existed on the Ministry’s right of way. These adjusted triangles are shown in Figure 2.
The McElhanney authors concluded that the removal of trees on the right-of-way “only marginally improves the sight triangle” The basis for this conclusion was that “On the northbound Highway 35 approach, it provides an additional 9.5m of visibility to the east at X=265m. On the westbound Highway 335, an additional 7.1m of visibility to the south is provided at Y-130m”. I respectfully disagree with this conclusion for reasons that will be explained shortly.
Figure 2: Sight triangles produced in McElhanney report for conditions in November, 2018.
7.0 Westbound Visibility of Stop Sign and Intersection
Photographs of the westbound approach on Highway 335 toward the intersection with Highway 35 lead to a concern about the visibility of the stop sign. The McElhanney photograph in Figure 3 was intended to address the possibility of tunnel vision. However the position of the stop sign at the edge of the horizon indicates that the sign could be more difficult to detect.
Figure 3: McElhanney photograph depicting issue of tunnel vision. The stop sign is at the edge of the horizon.
The same concern applies when looking at the McElhanney photograph in Figure 4. When the sun begins to drop toward the horizon the stop sign begins to be seen as a silhouette and begins to exhibit a similar contrast to the background.
Figure 4: McElhanney photograph depicting sun glare. It can be noted that the stop sign begins to be seen as a silhouette that matches the contrast of the background.
It unknown at what vertical height the camera was placed in either of the above photographs. The typical eye height of a truck driver would be about 2.4 metres above the pavement and this would be higher than what a photographer could achieve by stretching one’s arms fully above the head while taking a photograph. Thus some additional method (i.e. ladder) is needed to raise a camera high enough to properly depict the eye-height view of a typical truck driver. If the above photographs were taken at a lower height than the truck driver’s eye then the stop sign would appear lower in the photographs with respect to the horizon and this might demonstrate that the stop sign would not be as visible. Unfortunately, details of how the photographs were taken have not been provided.
Both McElhanney photographs also demonstrate the degree to which Highway 35 is visible as a very narrow line running across the field of view. One needs to be careful in discussions about the ability to detect an intersection when there could be such a minor indication of the presence of the cross road.
The unidentified document referred to in the January 8, 2019 article of CBC journalist Jason Warick referred to an number of highway warning signs: “…clearly marked highway signs warning of an intersection from approximately 400 metres, 300 metres, 200 metres and 100 meters away”. I previously indicated that I believe that document was a report filed by the investigating police. This citation does not appear to match the findings of the McElhanney authors who did not report the presence of these “clearly marked highway signs“. Again, this is an example where it is essential that a copy of the police report be made available and that the police investigators be made available to explain the meaning of citations like the one above.
8.0 Analysis of the Collision of April 6, 2018
The McElhanney authors did not report the distances from the centre-line of each roadway to the furthest protrusion of the trees into the sight triangle. Rather they produced a general figure showing the sight triangle. Those numeric values would have been helpful to demonstrate the degree to which the sight triangles were outside of the adopted policy. Because their report did not identify those specific values a precise analysis becomes difficult to achieve.
Analysis of this incident is further compromised by the lack of information from the police investigation. Not only did investigating police refuse to cooperate with this government-appointed McElhanney safety study but to this date, 9 months after the collision date, the results of their investigation have yet to be revealed. It is relevant to point out that, with police holding a monopoly on documenting the evidence of what occurred, their failure to produce the results of their findings has led to a vast amount of speculation and theorizing, as is known to occur whenever objective evidence about a major incident is not revealed. That speculation and theorizing has contributed to changes to the regulation of truck driving in Canada such that some provinces have received public blessings toward mandatory truck driver training. This means the government agents who test the performance of a potential truck driver for his/her worthiness to receive a license are now deemed insufficient to make that judgment. Now a prospective truck driver will need to pay about $10,000 in training fees to a private firm even before the government agent makes the official evaluation. While mandatory training sounds good on paper the question needs to be asked whether that training could prevent a truck driver from making the mistake of passing through a stop sign. There are various driving schools that have been providing training to novice drivers for decades yet there is no definitive study that demonstrates that those who took the training were less likely to pass through a stop sign. The alternative to expensive, private training courses is that the government could perform the same task using its own agents. If reductions in training costs are achieved this might allow many smaller trucking firms to remain competitive.
Thus this is an example of the manipulation of public beliefs that occur when police do not release information that is critical to understanding what actually occurred and what corrections need to be made. Such large numbers of the public are currently tuned into social media that misinformation quickly becomes entrenched as gospel . The success of such tactics rests in the hands of the public that need to apply a critical filter to what is manipulating their thoughts and beliefs.
Yet despite these irrational happenings a limited amount of objective evidence was recently made available through an article written by CBC’s Jason Warick. His January 8, 2019 article described the court proceedings in which the truck driver pled guilty. In that article Mr. Warick referred to an unidentified “document” that was discussed at the trial. That document was most likely a report of the findings of the investigating police. Nine months after the collision we now learn that the truck “drove into the intersection at a speed of 86 to 96 km/h” and that the bus produced 24 metres of skid marks prior to the impact. Mr. Warick also reported that the authors of the document concluded “The nearby trees did not obstruct the view and were inconsequential”. This third conclusion can only be described as remarkable given the findings of the intersection sight triangle that were contained in the McElhanney report. Despite all these difficulties some analysis can be conducted by incorporating some assumptions.
If the truck was travelling at a speed of 86 to 96 km/h then this would translate to a motion of 23.9 to 26.7 metres every second. We must accept the McElhanney demonstration that the bus driver could only detect the truck’s presence a short time and distance before impact. But we need to quantify what that “short time and distance” is in a numerical form. To answer that question we would need to know the pre-braking speed of the bus. But again, this evidence has not been disclosed. So again, we must rely on some approximations.
If the bus was travelling at 100 km/h on this highway which is signed with maximum speed of 100 km/h then we could consider how much speed would be lost during those 24 metres of skidding. Using a typical, heavy-vehicle deceleration rate of 0.6 g this would indicate that the bus would lose just over 60 km/h of speed and its impact speed would be just under 40 km/h. This analysis would also demonstrate that it would take about 2.9 seconds for the bus to travel that 24 metres while skidding to impact.
Next we need to estimate the perception/reaction delay that occurs between the time that the truck is first detected and the time that the braking is commenced. Research has demonstrated that even a very alert driver would be unlikely to commence skidding of a bus in less than 0.5 seconds after first detection. A more likely delay could be 1.0, 1.5 or even 2.0 seconds.
So taking the 2.9 seconds it took to produce the 24 metres of skid marks we would have to add at least 0.5 seconds and as much as 2.0 seconds to that time in order to determine when the bus driver first detected the presence of the truck which led to his reaction. So at 3.4 to 4.9 seconds before impact the bus driver would have made that detection which led to the understanding that the truck was not stopping and this led him to his eventual braking action.
At a speed of 100 km/h (27.8 metres per second) the bus would travel about 13.9 metres in 0.5 seconds and about 55.6 metres in 2.0 seconds. Thus the location where the bus driver detected the approaching truck would take into account the 24 metre skidding distance plus the 13.9 to 55.6 metres during the perception/reaction phase. Adding these distances results in a range of 37.9 to 79.6 metres. This is the location where the driver might have been located when he detected the truck.
Now, we need to accept the McElhanney claim that the removal of the smaller segment of trees from the sight triangle in the right-of-way owned by the Province might produce only small improvements from distances of 130 and 265 metres from the intersection. But the critical point that needs to be recognized is that these long distances are nowhere close to the location where the bus driver likely detected the truck. Clearly, if the bus was closer to the intersection than 130 metres then the viewing advantage to the bus driver would improve from the stated 7.1m to something much greater (better). But the advantage is not just available to the bus driver but the truck driver would also experience a viewing advantage. Thus the double advantage to both drivers increases the probability of avoiding the collision.
We might consider just the singular advantage provided to the bus driver. When he is about 40 to 80 metres from the centre of the intersection he detects the truck. What if the removal of the trees allowed him an additional 1.0 second of braking time? What effect might that have on the collision consequences? From 100 km/h, skidding for 43 metres would occur in about 3.8 seconds and would reduce the bus’s speed to just 18.9 km/h as it reached the area of impact. While the truck’s speed could be very fast, the bus’s approach into impact at only 19 km/h could make a vast difference with respect to the occupants of the bus. Particularly those occupants who are seated further back from the point of impact.
Change-in-velocity (or Delta-V) of the centre-of-gravity of a vehicle is the descriptor of the severity of a collision that defines what injuries might be expected. But when a collision involves a long vehicle such as a bus the concept of a local or relative Delta-V becomes a more appropriate indicator of injury. This is so because the individual locations where the occupants are seated have different or individual Delta-Vs. So the injury potential is obviously different. Even without considering that concept, the bus would not sustain a large longitudinal Delta-V but would more likely experience some lateral and a substantial rotational Delta-V. In other words the front of the bus would be pushed to the left and there would be a lot of counter-clockwise rotation. But from an injury standpoint these motions would be unlikely to involve fatal injuries.
Even more important is the fact that this additional braking, about 1 second earlier, would mean that the bus’s arrival at the area of impact would be delayed such that, depending on the truck’s speed, the truck may have passed through the intersection before the bus arrived. One can also consider that steering actions would also be available to each driver that could also improve the ability to avoid the collision.
So we need to obtain the details from the police investigation to carry on with this scenario . However the analysis that has been performed illustrates that it can be deceiving to state that the visibility would only be marginally improved from the 130 and 265 metre distances along each highway. One has to wonder why the McElhanney authors made this comment when it creates such a misunderstanding of the issue. These long distances are not the distances that are relevant when discussing whether the Humboldt Broncos collision could be avoided. The advantage would be greater when both vehicles got closer to the intersection.
The additional issue of concern is that on June 17, in 1997 a fatal collision occurred at the subject intersection that resulted in the deaths of six persons. At that time Ministry officials would have been obligated to examine the safety of the intersection. While the involved vehicles were travelling along different paths (east and south) compared to the present incident, officials should have been able to look across the intersection and recognize the presence of the stand of trees on the south-east quadrant. (Looking at the size of the trees in the current photographs produced in the McElhanney report it is my opinion that they would have been present at the time of the 1997 incident so the defense that the line of sight was substantially different is not plausible). Their observation of the trees should have led officials to their recognition that the trees represented a significant danger to the occupants of vehicles travelling along northbound and westbound paths into the intersection . Further calculations should have been performed to quantify that danger. If the officials performed their work correctly they would have discovered the sight triangle that was similar to the figure shown in the McElhanney report. This discovery should have led to the cutting of the trees. If that could not be accomplished then other measures, such as a reduction in the posted speed on Highway 35, additional signage or other measures should have commenced. It is noteworthy that oversize stop signs and a flashing light existed along the westbound approach of Highway 335 toward the intersection and it needs to be revealed whether those installations had something to do with the 1997 fatal collision or the recognition of the stand of trees. However the Transportation Department’s responsibility was clearly outlined in the 1986 edition of the TAC manual that preceded the 1997 collision by a full decade:
“From each approach to an intersection, sufficient sight distance along each intersection leg to allow vehicle operators to see approaching vehicles in time to avoid collision is required.”
Unfortunately the change to the sight triangle was not done until 21 years later, after there was a major loss of life due to that inaction.
While that inaction by employees of the Saskatchewan’s Transportation Department is unfortunate it also cannot be glossed over. Yet this is precisely what is occurring. The truck driver has pled guilty signifying that he made a mistake that resulted in terrible consequences. But there are unidentified members of the Transportation Department who also made a mistake that resulted in these terrible consequences. Those individuals and the inactions of the Ministry cannot be hidden as they presently are.
Similarly police have an obligation to search and detect dangers to the public. Not just select dangers but any and all dangers. Death is no less unpleasant because it was caused by an unsafe roadway. Therefore police should be reporting unsafe conditions such as a non-existing stop sign, a 3-metre-deep hole in the middle of a highway or the presence of trees that block the visibility of drivers at an intersection. All three of these examples can cause the death of an innocent driver as much as a drunk driver. How can police do their utmost to ensure that a charge against the truck driver in the Humboldt Broncos collision is successful while failing to cooperate in an investigation of the subject intersection that could affect the safety of many other future drivers? We all bear part of the responsibility when we enable these circumstances by remaining silent.
This is not about seeking vengeance but it is about changing the operations of transportation agencies as a whole, including the actions of police, who enable the hiding of dangers to the public. Just as individual drivers have responsibilities for their actions, so too must police and transportation agencies. It is especially true for these agencies because the public must place its trust in their monopoly to maintain a safe roadway environment.
The likely fact that a large segment of Canadians have not been made aware that the Saskatchewan Department of Transportation likely failed to act appropriately and was likely a contributor to the many deaths and injuries on the Humboldt Broncos bus should be disturbing. It should be disturbing because it demonstrates how those misdeeds can be successfully kept secret from the public. That kind of successful secrecy cannot exist in our society.