Another median crossover incident occurred on Highway 401 just east of Downie Road on December 17, 2018. This is significant because the involved tanker truck struck the High Tension Cable Median Barrier (HTCMB). The HTCMB is being installed along the 188 kilometre distance between Tilbury and London, Ontario. There has been recent controversy whether the HTCMB is a suitable replacement to the typical, concrete barrier that exists through most of the length of Highway 401. The Ontario government as indicated its intention install the concrete barrier at a later date and the HTCMB installation was identified as a temporary, quick solution.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) released a photo of the tanker truck at its final rest position and this is shown below. We have attached three red circles to highlight points of interest.
The view shown above is of the truck pointing westward at the north edge of the eastbound median lane. The Downie Road overpass is located just a short distance behind the camera. It can be seen that the left side wheels of the truck are stopped within the eastbound median lane of the highway. For all meaningful discussion this truck passed through the median and into the travel path of eastbound vehicles.
The red circle at the upper right of the photo is there to indicate that the truck passed through the barrier some distance to the east of its final rest position. We cannot use the rest position as an indicator of whether the truck entered further into the eastbound median lane. This conclusion must be made based on what evidence is shown in the vicinity of the red circle in the background. The OPP did not release a photo showing that evidence. It would be expected that this truck would have reached a maximum displacement into the median lane some distance behind its rest position. Thus this single photo is deceiving with respect to the important issue of how far the truck travelled into this opposing lane.
The red circle at the left end of the front bumper illustrates that there is direct damage at this location which is below the level of the three cable wires that are pressing against the left side of the truck. The photo below shows a typical example of the HTCMB located about 20 kilometres west of the Downie site.
It can be seen that the barrier contains four cables. Three of those cables are pressing against the left side of the tanker truck and therefore one of the cables is not visible. A closer view of the red circle at the extreme bottom left of the OPP photo suggests that the fourth cable may be visible here .This cable would have been the bottom one and the truck would appear to have driven over top of that cable.
The damage to the left edge of the truck’s front bumper would therefore be consistent with contact of that bottom cable. The news media reported that the reason why the truck crossed into the median was because there was a deflation of the left front tire of the truck. While that may be possible the bottom cable would also have been pressing against that tire and could very likely have caused the tire damage after the truck had already crossed the median and struck the cable barrier.
It was reported that no injuries occurred as a result of this incident and that there was no impact with opposing eastbound traffic. That is fortunate. However the result could have been much worse. If the eastbound traffic was sufficiently dense at the time that the truck entered partly into the eastbound median lane an eastbound vehicle occupying that lane could have collided with the truck. Even if a collision was avoided the driver of such an eastbound vehicle might have been forced to steer quickly and hard. Such an action could easily cause a collision with other eastbound traffic. The consequences could have been unpredictable.
Passing through the site in the morning and evening of December 19th it was observed that the HTCMB was still not repaired. The photo below is frame taken from video of our westbound vehicle and the tire marks from the tanker truck can be seen in the grass median.
This view shows that the cables are all loose, likely in preparation to repair the system. Another frame from the video (below) is closer to Downie Road and shows a further indication of the loose cables.
Our observations were that the cables were loose for several kilometres to the east of the incident. This observation has to be of concern. On the third day after the collision the cable system remains inoperative. What if another vehicle travelled into the median anywhere along that distance of several kilometres before the repair was made? Not only would the system fail to arrest that vehicle but the striking of the loose cables could cause an unpredictable interaction with the striking vehicle that may cause more harm than without its presence. In contrast, if a concrete barrier was present there is no doubt that the truck impact would not require repairs to that barrier.
As an independent, accident reconstruction and road safety business, Gorski Consulting has no special interest in the documenting of these incidents along Highway 401. Up to the present time we have not be retained by any involved party, municipality or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to support or condemn the actions of any individual or organization. As a result our comments are completely free any special interest. While the future remains to be seen there are concerns that are beginning to reveal themselves of about the functioning of the HTCMB being installed along Highway 401 between Tilbury and London.
Most importantly it needs to be stressed that the OPP need to be involved in providing a detailed and unbiased documenting of those incidents where the HTCBM has been struck. While a single photo such at the one provided by the OPP can be helpful, it can also be deceiving. When evidence crucial to the understanding of the occurrences is not released the public develops a mislead understanding of these important events. If the documenting of these incidents is beyond the capability of the OPP another independent agency needs to become involved to make this information available to the general public.