Fortunately the Ontario Provincial Police provided this photo of an upside down vehicle in a narrow ditch on Townsend Line in Lambton County. Otherwise we would not have the opportunity to explain the danger of such occurrences.

At the risk of playing this broken record (for young folk ask your parents or grand parents what that means) there is a danger when a vehicle comes to rest upside down in shallow water in winter conditions. The above photo, provided by the OPP on December 15, 2022, was accompanied by a dry Twitter comment that “Thankfully, no injuries to the lone occupant”. Nowhere is there any further comment about how easily this result could have been fatal.

Imagine that this collision occurred in night-time on this relatively low-volume road. The depth of the bottom of the ditch could easily hide any illuminated lighting of the vehicle to any passing motorists. So the vehicle could have been left unseen for hours. What if the driver sustained some form of injury that caused him/her to find it difficult to escape the vehicle? What if the seat-belt became difficult to release in this upside down position? What if the doors could not be opened? Few persons realize that, when a ditch is very steep and narrow a vehicle can become lodged parallel to the deep crevice and the doors cannot be opened against the sides of the earth ditch. Fortunately in this above example the ditch is just slightly wide enough so the vehicle in not parallel to the ditch and there appears to be room to open the doors. But the doors could still be difficult to open if damaged.

So what happens when you’re stuck upside down in water and you cannot get out of the freezing water? You might survive, sometimes for several hours depending on other factors. But hypothermia eventually sets in and the result can be lethal.

The reality is that the number of persons who perish in shallow, water-filled ditches in Southwestern Ontario is not publicized. At Gorski Consulting we have published several articles on our website on this issue. While such drownings occur throughout the province a fair number of them occur in the counties of Lambton, Essex and Chatham-Kent. These counties appear to have a larger number of deep and narrow ditches next to many roadways where there is no protection provided by any guiderails or barriers. Since the Municipal Act was enacted the safety of roadways, which was exclusively a provincial governance, suddenly became the responsibility of local municipalities. Those municipalities that had a preponderance of safety problems now had to find the money within their local jurisdictions to deal with those problems. So now the safety of roadways becomes dependent on which municipal jurisdiction you drive in. The counties of Lambton, Essex and Chatham-Kent would have to spend huge amounts of money to protect the very large numbers of roadways with water-filled ditches with proper roadside guiderails and barriers. Yet, in the past, the Province of Ontario would pool the information about safety problems throughout the Province and then would provide the funds to deal with the most urgent concerns regardless of where they existed.

The Counties of Lambton, Essex and Chatham-Kent may become liable for failing to provide the proper protections from roadside drownings. Claims in civil litigation will be made and lawyer negotiations will result in further payments by local taxpayers. Civil proceedings almost never reach trial but are almost exclusively resolved through lawyer negotiations. And even if there is very little evidence of liability no one wants to enter the realm of the courtroom where legal fees will skyrocket and the outcome is known in legal circles as being unpredictable.

Very often this is a matter of politics, not fault. A political realignment that allows safety problems to exist while punishing local jurisdictions is a matter of inequality. So, in practice, there is likely never to be enough local money to fix the roadside safety problems that continue to exist. What remains are such incidents as shown in the above photo, where we rely on luck to save some and ignore the publicity when someone else succumbs to unfortunate reality.