This court exhibit showing the front end of McNorgan’s damaged vehicle illustrates that the public is given only narrow glimpses of the issues surrounding the tragedy where an innocent girl was struck and killed on Riverside Drive on November 30, 2021 in London, Ontario.

Why a 2017 Honda CRV accelerated through an intersection and struck a group of children was the basis for a trial of its driver, Petronella McNorgan. The fatal collision occurred on November 30, 2021 on Riverside Drive in London, Ontario. The trial heard from prosecution experts that McNorgan did not press on the brake, like she claimed, but that she was pressing on the accelerator pedal, as supported by a download from the vehicle’s event data recorder and summarized in a Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) report that was entered as evidence. News media reported that on December 13, 2021 the vehicle was inspected by “Transport Canada inspectors, police and a Honda Canada mechanic”.

The prosecution conclusion, as summarized by Constable Blair Jackson, was that “the evidence collected throughout the investigation revealed that the subject motor vehicle was in good mechanical condition, and that the brake system specifically, was in good working order and this was a preventable collision due to driver input”. Strangely, it was reported that McNorgan had been licensed to drive since 1967, or about 54 years when the collision occurred, yet there was no discussion whether, in all those years, she had ever mistook her accelerator pedal as the brake pedal.

The events unfolded on November 30, 2021 when McNorgan was westbound along the downslope of Riverside Drive and approaching the busy intersection with Wonderland Road. Two vehicles were reportedly ahead of her, presumably stopped at the Wonderland intersection. As she applied her brake she reported that the vehicle began to accelerate. It was reported that her Honda struck a Jeep but this was a glancing blow as police believed that such an impact would not trigger the vehicle’s event data recorder to start recording. After this glancing impact the Honda travelled at high speed onto the north roadside of Riverside Drive where it struck a lamp standard with its front end. Following this the Honda continued to travel onto the north sidewalk where it struck a group of children, killing one of them. Following this the Honda travelled in an arcing fashion back onto Riverside, crossing it, and entering the south roadside where it came to a stop.

The progress of the trial in early 2024 was reported by local news media. On March 27th the news media reported that the prosecution was finished with their evidence and that the Judge in the case would ask the defense whether they would call any evidence. On the following day news media described McNorgan’s testimony and she stood fast with her belief that she tried to apply her brake yet her vehicle accelerated. The news media did not indicate that there was any testimony provided by an expert witness for the defense.

The possibility that there was no expert witness for the defense that provided any countering comments to the prosecution’s experts is disturbing. Since the CDR report was never released for viewing by the public important questions about its content can never be answered.

Some questions that needed to be answered include the following.

Was a non-deployment file activated when the Honda struck the Jeep at the Wonderland Road intersection? If a non-deployment file was not created why did the stability control system activated so that it caused the Honda to reduce its speed by about 20 km/h even through the accelerator pedal was presumably pressed to the floor?

What was the status of the rest of the data contained in the CDR report?

Did Defense experts examine the vehicle and conduct their own download of the Honda’s event data recorder?

What did the court know about the details of Honda vehicle control networks and whether any of those could have failed?

Answers to questions like these are unlikely to be provided.

The content of Crash Data Reports is trusted essentially by everyone who examines them. Analysts of such reports regularly discuss various details and problems in internet chat groups. The accuracy and reliability of these reports is safeguarded by government legislation which instructs manufacturers what they must do in terms of providing collision data. As of the year 2013 manufacturers were instructed that, if their vehicles contained the ability to record collision data, such data must be made available to their parties and there must be a list of mandatory data that must be included in any report. The belief is that, those requirements are sufficient to guarantee the trustworthiness of these reports. One difficulty is that no one can be absolutely certain that motor vehicles are functioning safely except through examining the content of these reports. As the functioning of motor vehicles becomes more complex, so are the systems. The details of electronics, software and complex vehicle designs are proprietary information that is only available to the manufacturers for competitive reasons. Only a small part of this information is available through analysis of Crash Data Reports. Given the mandatory parameters that must be reported government officials believe that safety problems can be reliably uncovered. But there is no absolute certainty in that belief.

A review of past instances where motor vehicle manufacturers hid safety related problems likely never reached the jury in the present trial.

For example, it was not that long ago that a driver who was convicted of “criminally negligent homicide” was set free and the conviction was overturned because new evidence revealed that a motor vehicle manufacturer hid crucial information about sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles. How quickly we forget that in August, 2015, Koau Fong Lee, was sentenced to eight years in prison, and was in prison for two-and-a-half years, before it became known that Toyota failed to reveal certain causes of sudden acceleration of which they were aware. The tragic collision occurred when Lee’s 1996 Camry suddenly sped up and he could not gain control it until he crashed into an Oldsmobile occupied by two adults who were killed and a six-year-old girl who became quadriplegic.

Here are some examples of past misdeeds by motor vehicle manufacturers where safety related problems were hidden for many years.

Toyota Sudden Acceleration

In a U.S. Justice Department report the following summary was provided about the Toyota sudden acceleration defect:

In the fall of 2009, TOYOTA deceived consumers and its U.S. regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), by claiming that it had “addressed” the “root cause” of unintended acceleration in its vehicles through a limited safety recall of eight models for floor-mat entrapment, a dangerous condition in which an improperly secured or incompatible all-weather floor mat can “trap” a depressed gas pedal causing the car to accelerate to a high speed.  Such public assurances deceived customers and NHTSA in two ways:  First, at the time the statements were made, TOYOTA knew that it had not recalled some cars with design features that made them just as susceptible to floor-mat entrapment as some of the recalled cars.  Second, only weeks before these statements were made, TOYOTA had taken steps to hide from NHTSA another type of unintended acceleration in its vehicles, separate and apart from floor-mat entrapment: a problem with accelerators getting stuck at partially depressed levels, known as “sticky pedal.” 

General Motors Ignition Switches

Ignition switches installed in certain General Motors vehicles led to them being shut off while vehicles were in motion. Such an occurrence would prevent activation of air bags in a crash. The problem existed for many years until a local and independent mechanic uncovered that a spring in the ignition switches was too short. It was further uncovered that a General Motors engineer was aware of this defect but hid it. At last count, in the years around 2016, well over 400 deaths were accepted by GM as related to the defect although the final number has never been revealed.

Takata Air Bags

In February, 0217 Takata pled guilty to charges that it concealed a defect in its air bags that caused them to explode because of the chemical in the inflators did not function properly when exposed to prolonged heat and humidity. Meanwhile plaintiffs in other lawsuits claimed that other manufacturers such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Ford and BMW had independent knowledge of the Takata defect.


It was the opinion of the prosecution experts in the McNorgan trial that two seconds prior to the impact with the lamp standard the vehicle’s stability control system was activated. This caused the Honda to slow down from 121 km/h to 102 km/h at the instant of impact with the lamp standard. Yet they also stated that the accelerator pedal was pressed down 99% throughout the 5 second time before the impact. This is a demonstration of how the systems in the Honda took over and changed the speed of the Honda despite the driver’s actions. It is assumed that the experts did not believe that a similar control could have taken place if McNorgan applied the brake but that somehow the Honda systems caused it to accelerate. This belief would likely come from the CDR report that showed that the brake pedal was not depressed. Yet braking of the Honda had to have occurred because its speed was reduced on approach to the lamp standard impact.

The question remains, what should the brake pedal data look like when the Honda’s stability control system was braking the vehicle? Mechanically, if there is a physical connection between the brake pedal and the brake fluid, the brake pedal increases the pressure in the brake fluid and this pressure travels to the brake calipers which collapse around the wheels’ rotors and thus the vehicle slows down. But it appears that the stability control system had priority over the brakes. The systems engineered into the Honda were such that it was more important to “stabilize” the vehicle rather than allow maximum braking. The word stability is somewhat of a misnomer because what is really happening is that the systems are controlling the rotation of the wheels to achieve the goal of pointing the vehicle in the direction that it is travelling. During this process a substantial amount of tire force must be taken up that might otherwise be available for steering, full-wheel braking or acceleration. While some tire force may remain to steer the vehicle for example, it is not the full tire force that would be available if the stability control system was not engaged. In this sense, there remains some ability to steer a vehicle away from danger but that ability is compromised.

The goal in pointing the vehicle in the direction it is travelling is to prepare the vehicle for any impact that might occur. It is understood that a vehicle striking something with its front end is safer to the occupants than if the impact occurs to the side. So in most instances the logic makes sense. But in some instances the result is not as favourable.

In the present case, after the Honda made a glancing contact with the Jeep it most likely entered into a rotation that needed to be countered and that is why the stability control system was activated. The safety systems imbedded in the Honda likely determined that the most important matter was to stop the rotation. In fact, if the rotation was allowed to continue the Honda might have entered into a sideways slide, or a further spin during which a greater level of deceleration might be achieved than what the stability control system was needing to stop the rotation.

Granted, there was some danger to McNorgan if the Honda began sliding sideways because it is possible that it might approach the lamp standard while leading with its driver’s side. If the lamp standard contact was directly to the driver’s door there could be a substantial danger that might be mitigated somewhat by deployment of a side air bag. But such a direct contact would have to be precisely where the driver is seated to pose a substantial danger.

The further advantage of allowing the Honda’s rotation is that, if McNorgan was indeed pressing on the accelerator pedal there is a reasonable chance that her foot might slip off the pedal due to the rotation. And if the Honda struck the lamp standard with its driver’s side there would be an even greater opportunity to force McNorgan’s foot off the accelerator pedal.

It also becomes important to study what might have happened after the Honda struck the lamp standard. Was the stability control system active after that impact? There is reason to believe that this was the case because of the manner in which the Honda continued to straighten its rotation as shown in the tire mark evidence. The two photos below show the Honda’s tire marks on the north roadside and after it crossed the road onto the south roadside. In the first photo there is evidence that the Honda is in a counter-clockwise rotation (“yaw”) but the convergence of the tire marks indicates that it is straightening out. And by the time the Honda reaches the other side of the road there are only two tire marks so it has now fully straightened out and is pointing in the direction it is travelling. Such a successful straightening of the vehicle’s pointing direction is indicative of the action of the stability control system.

So one can conclude that the stability control system was active from 2 seconds before the impact with the lamp standard and throughout the Honda’s travel after that impact.

The jury at trial should have been instructed about the complexity of modern vehicle control systems and what systems were installed in the version of the Honda CRV driven by McNorgan.

Some CRVs are equipped with a Forward Collision Warning (FCW) system. As described by Honda the system is “designed to detect the presence of vehicles in front of you and issues alerts if you’re approaching with too much speed. If you fail to respond to the alerts, the SMBS is triggered”. The Collision Mitigation Braking System (SMBS) is described by Honda as follows: “To help reduce the likelihood or severity of a frontal impact, the available CMBS is engineered to apply brake pressure if you don’t slow down when it senses you’re at risk of a collision. If it still senses an imminent collision, the SMBS is designed to brake firmly”.

So was there any discussion at trial whether the above systems were installed in McNorgan’s Honda? And if the CMBS was installed why did it not apply braking when the Honda made initial contact with the Jeep? Such automatic braking could have prevented the remaining tragedies from occurring.

A number of questions still exist with respect to what occurred at McNorgan’s trial. Unfortunately news media did not provide enough detail to answer these questions.

In incidents like these many persons question why a driver would not gear down or turn off the ignition. Such arm-chair quarterbacking never appreciates how drivers can become confused about what is happening and then must fight with avoiding immediate dangers that are occurring in very rapid succession. Never-the-less good driver training should emphasize to drivers the need to become familiar and practice methods of slowing a vehicle by gearing down or turning off the ignition.