Don’t speculate about someone’s death until you know. But when will you know? Likely never. And that is also not helpful.
As a result of a July 3, 2021 collision, a westbound driver was killed when his car apparently drove into the rear of tractor-trailer on Highway 401 near Avenue Road in Toronto. The following Twitter comment was made about the incident as follows:
“Let me guess, the truck was parked on the shoulder. This guy comes out of nowhere while most likely distracted driving and just rear ends the parked truck and dies instantly”.
For many persons detailed investigation is not needed. Even the scarcest information will do to develop a conclusion. While some will criticize this form of discrimination the reality is that this is who we are. When a significant event occurs we have to have an answer for it. And when not enough information is provided we improvise. Guess. Speculate. This is who we are.
What is regrettable is that we really need to know and draw informed opinions, for the sake of ourselves and those that we influence by our speculation. We need to know because those wrong conclusions can kill us, and have killed us for many years, because we simply do not know what happens in roadway scenarios that will kill us.
Why collisions occur is complicated. When detailed reconstructions are carried out they often become a matter of an analyst’s opinion developed from their own education and experience. And, regrettably, even the conclusions from such detailed reconstructions are insufficient and wrong. Those at the top of the reconstruction food chain are likely those from scientific organizations such as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the U.S. or the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) in Canada. Members of such organizations are often highly experienced, highly educated, and the least to be influenced by politics and general bias. But they cannot examine every collision. What remains is that collisions are analyzed by the “next best thing”. And if the “next best thing” is an analyst with less training and experience because there is no other choice.
The news coming from typical police and news media sources is always based on the most minimal objective evidence and long before any real analysis is carried out. That is unfortunate because this is the only information that the public sees and hears. By the time that some proper analysis is carried out the story becomes long cold and never reaches the news and the public. What remains in the public’s eye is what was exchanged from an initial interview of a police spokesperson, a witness, or simply a reporter who believes he or she knows what took place. While some information may trickle out months or years later via the reporting of the progress or results of a trial those reports cannot provide the detailed explanations of the investigative findings and analysis this is needed to truly understand what happened and how it happened.
If we are to make headway in improving collision consequences engineering can do a great deal. We can engineer a road environment that lessens the chances of driver errors and when errors occur the roadway environment can lessen the severity of those consequences.
We can also engineer improvements in vehicles themselves. In the current example there is a need to examine under-ride protection so that guards at the rear of trailers are sufficiently effective.
However, through decades of understanding that collision analysis involves The Human, The Vehicle and The Environment, or HVE for short, we fail to consider some aspects of the Human issue. A missing segment is that we humans need to be educated, not just preached to. The present collision is one of millions of missed opportunities to inform the public about what matters because no useful information will ever be revealed as to why the rear-ending driver collided with the tractor-trailer. And so we all become speculators, guessers, improvisors for the fact that we know very little about how collisions occur. The words of the Twitter comment pass through our heads as news of each collision is brought to our attention: we know precisely what happened and there is nothing or no one who can tell us differently.