Highway median cross over collisions can be deadly. Therefore it is good news that a transport truck was kept within the median of Highway 401 rather than crossing into opposing lanes near Kenesserie Road on Saturday, August 18th, 2018. But the issue is more complicated than that.
The OPP reported that at about 0030 hours on Saturday an eastbound pick-up truck was hauling an engine on a flatbed trailer when its driver lost control due to the wet road conditions. The pick-up struck the newly installed high tension median barrier causing the engine to become dislodged and it flew into the opposing, westbound lanes of the highway. A westbound transport truck struck the engine and went out of control, driving into the median where it struck the cable barrier preventing the truck from travelling into the opposing eastbound lanes. This was hailed by the OPP as a success story in that there were no injuries and therefore the median barrier successfully prevented a deadly median barrier cross-over collision. Well, yes, it prevented the vehicles from crossing the median, but the celebration fails to recognize the important fact that the engine was not prevented from crossing the median, and that is a problem.
There was no description of the engine involved but it could easily have weighed a 1000 pounds. Even much less massive objects flying into opposing lanes can be deadly. What if the engine had struck a smaller vehicle such as a car or a light duty truck? Would the consequences have been just a favourable? Clearly not.
While there appear to have been some benefits to the presence of the newly-installed cable barrier, this incident does not prove that it was the right choice for installation over the more costly concrete barrier. What is needed is more information and experience from further incidents before any conclusions can be drawn. The problem is that the details of what transpires during these incidents are not provided for the public to evaluate. Nor is it likely that any such details will ever be provided. And that is another problem.
The OPP uploaded several photos of two vehicles involved in a fatal collision on Hwy 48 north-east of Toronto over the weekend. The photo above shows the two involved vehicles. A 25-year-old female occupant of one of the vehicles reportedly sustained fatal injuries. While the reasons why occupants do not survive such impacts may be complicated by unreported facts, the public should become critical observers of incidents like these that do not provide an obvious reason for the fatal consequence.
The safety of modern, light-duty vehicles has improved greatly over the decades such that the collisions that were deemed not survivable only 40 years ago are certainly survivable today. This is particularly true of frontal impacts of two vehicles approaching from opposite directions such as the one shown in the photo above. A distance approaching 1.5 metres from the front end of such a typical vehicle to the location of an occupied front seat is the key factor enabling the controlled ride-down of the occupants. A wide variety of safety systems can be deployed in the 1/10th of a second of such a crash that were not present 40 years ago.
In those earlier years most persons did not wear seatbelts and even if these restraints were worn they were of poor design. Similarly the frontal structures of those older vehicles did not crush in a controlled manner such that in many instances the structure of the crushed vehicle would penetrate into the occupant’s space. Air bags were also not available but even the early air bag systems were too aggressive and caused their own safety problems. Although some challenges remain, for the most part air bag systems have improved while being incorporated into the full system of other safety devices.
While it is not apparent to the general public, a key ingredient in the improved safety of head-on crashes was the implementation of “pre-tensioners” in restraint systems. In earlier days seat belt loading marks were measured by investigators to determine how they were being used at the time of an impact. That data showed that the loading did not occur until the occupant was in a “full-forward” position, similar to the position if the occupant had placed their seat in a full forward position on the seat’s adjustment track. Clearly this was not a recipe for improving the safety of occupants because the restraining was occurring too late in the crash. There are many reasons why this is not a good idea but this will not be discussed here. The point is that pre-tensioners are fired in the same manner as an air bag causing about 4 inches (10 centimetres) of webbing to be pulled toward the occupant’s body. This is a tremendous improvement in the commencement of ride down at an early stage resulting in tremendous improvement in occupant safety.
In summary the photo above shows a classic case where the frontal structures of both vehicles appear to have performed well. Although there is a lot of crush this is a good result. Crush is needed to dissipate the kinetic energy possessed by both vehicles prior to impact. The full frontal engagement of both vehicles is somewhat uncommon but it suggests that most of the kinetic energy would have been dissipated by the vehicles and that the impact force was relatively close to the centre-of-gravity of each vehicle. While this is not ideal it also allows the full frontal mass of the vehicles to be involved in the dissipation. Most head-on collisions involve in the range of a 50 percent overlap and therefore half a vehicle’s frontal structure is not helping in the controlled ride-down. So there are trade-offs.
A good crush is demonstrated by the lack of rearward displacement of the A-pillars of each vehicle. The A-pillars are those that are located on each side of the windshield. Where there is rearward displacement of such pillars there is often a compromising of the near-occupant’s seating space and this is a bad result. So seeing the lack of any A-pillar displacement is a good sign.
Also, while there appears to be substantial crush it is not overwhelming. Examining the position of the front wheels In the wheel-wells is also a general indicator of the extent of maximum crush as well as the degree of crush of the front edges of the hood of each vehicle. All these facts point to a collision severity that was manageable.
So these facts lead to the expectation that the occupants of each vehicle should have survived the crash. So why did a 25-year-old female sustain fatal injuries in this crash? This question should not be left unanswered. While there may be reasons that have not been explained or revealed, the public should be prepared to recognize when something is not quite right in the reporting of such tragedies.
Gorski Consulting is conducting a variety of testing involving bicycling on vertical alignments on roadways and bicycling paths. Testing is being prepared along a new section of a bicycling path completed in the summer of 2018 in east London, as shown in the above graphic of London, Ontario.
The graphic below shows the general alignment of the new path which is approximately 1 kilometer long and extends southward from Trafalgar Road in Kiwanis Park.
The graphic below is a Google Maps image looking south from the bridge at Trafalgar Road that crosses Pottersburg Creek. This view was taken in July, 2016, before the construction of the path was begun.
It has been observed that steep vertical alignments of roadways and bicycling paths pose a challenge to cyclists. Data is needed to examine how cyclists travel up and down such alignments and what safety hazards may develop. In preparation for this study the 1 kilometer section of the new path has been marked at 25 metre intervals, north and south of the Canadian National Railway bridge which is approximately in the middle of the new path. This new bridge was chosen as the starting point of testing because of its high altitude. Riders would be descending from the bridge whether travelling north or south.
The photo below shows a view of the CN railway bridge looking south. A typical marker showing “25” metres is with reference to the north end of the bridge.
The photo below shows the bridge from the south side, looking north, or opposite to the view shown above.
View looking north from 25 metres south of the CN railway bridge.The photo below shows the section of the bicycle path from 25 metres south of the CN railway bridge. The downgrade along with a sweeping left curve provide some challenging conditions where cycling speeds are likely to be elevated.
The photo below shows a view looking south from 75 metres north of the CN railway bridge. Again riders experience a significant downgrade while traveling toward the camera and this will create significant speeds of bicyclists.
A particular concern and interest relates to the conditions of the new path as cyclists travel northward from the CN railway bridge and toward the underpass at Trafalgar Road.
The photo below shows the downgrade of the path at 75 metres north of the railway bridge. The path meanders in the background and reaches the Trafalgar Road underpass at approximately 300 metres north of the CN railway bridge.
Elevated speeds of bicyclists are expected as they continue to travel northward along the downgrade. As shown in the photo below the path levels off near the 200 metre location north of the CN bridge and then it makes a right turn to travel toward the Trafalgar Road underpass in the background. Even though there is a leveling off of the downgrade it is expected that cyclists will still be travelling at an elevated speed in this zone.
As shown below, the path makes a right turn toward a bridge that crosses Pottersburg Creek just before making a dramatic left turn to go into the underpass of Trafalgar Road. The downslope is increased slightly in the vicinity of the bridge and this should make the left turn challenging at the expected higher cyclist speeds.
The photo below shows how the path comes to a “T” terminal point and riders must turn sharply to the left to go down into the Trafalgar Road underpass.
The change in direction of the path for northbound cyclists into the underpass is challenging due to the downgrade along with other factors. The photo below shows some of the problems. The line of sight to travel into the underpass is very limited.
View looking north at the Trafalgar underpass.The photo below shows the extent of the downgrade, curvature and the lack of sight lines for northbound cyclists travelling toward the camera. Persons walking within the underpass will not be seen and corrections by northbound cyclists could direct them into the railing at elevated speed.
The photo below provides an overall view of the bike path as it approaches Trafalgar Road and the “T” terminal of the path.
View looking south from the Trafalgar Road bridge showing the bridge crossing Pottersburg Creek and the “T” terminal point where northbound cyclists must make a sharp left turn to go into the underpass.
These photos provide some of the reasons why Gorski Consulting has chosen this site to conduct the bicycling testing which we hope will be discussed in further news items and articles on the Gorski Consulting website.
A well-meaning decision to re-align the difficult curves of “Snake Hill” along the west portion of Commissioners Road in London, Ontario may lead to dangerous conditions for cyclists riding on the steep downgrade that City staff and politicians may have under-estimated. The decision to make the re-alignment will not cause actual work to begin until 15 to 20 years in the future so there should be some leeway to consider what problems may be created.
While the actual re-alignment of the road is a separate matter, City staff and politicians appear to have agreed that, once the road is re-aligned the original road will remain to be turned into a multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians. And this is the main concern: the safety of the cyclists.
The London Free Press quoted several residents in their article on the proposed changes. The general consensus is that the 11.8 percent slope of the hill is a safety problem and the realignment will improve the slope making it more gradual. Many vehicles such as transit buses, truck and emergency vehicles have been prevented from using the curve because of the safety concerns. And cyclists must avoid the curve for similar reasons. So everyone is quoted as being happy with the progress of improving the curve.
What has not been discussed is what will happen when the original and dangerous roadway is turned into a pathway for exclusive use by cyclists and pedestrians. While the average slope was estimated at 11.8 percent, there are undoubtedly smaller segments that are steeper than that average. The slope was deemed to be a safety hazard for motorized vehicles even though drivers of such vehicles can place their transmissions into a lower gear and thus neutralize the effects of gravity to some degree.
But bicycles do not have a lower gear on downslopes. The gears that bikes have change the effort required to pedal up slopes, not down slopes. Other than braking there is nothing that a cyclist can do to prevent gravity from increasing the speed of a cycle. As an example, recent bicycle testing conducted on a less steep hill in London (Meadowlily Road in east London) showed that at an average downslope of just 6.5 percent a cycle, commencing from a stopped position, would cause a bicycle to reach speeds in the order of 45 km/h in 400 metres from coasting alone. What speed could be attained if a cyclist approached the Snake Hill curve at a typical speed of 18 to 20 km/h and then performed a small amount of pedaling before recognizing the extent of the slope?
The problem for cyclists is exacerbated because a cycle is very dependent on the conditions of the surface on which it travels to maintain control of the cycle. And this is crucial on a steep downslope that might be misjudged. Road surface conditions such as water, dirt or sand or any degree of roughness or patching of the pavement could mean that a cyclist could be destabilized. Also braking would be compromised because there is a danger in braking a cycling while travelling over such surface conditions that is not shared by a 4-wheeled motor vehicle.
So if the slopes of Snake Hill were dangerous to the motor vehicle driving public, why is it OK to cause cyclists to use it when they are in even greater danger than motor vehicle drivers? Hopefully someone will think about his before many meaningful shovels are but in the earth.
There are not very many success stories being observed when it comes to vehicle impacts with guardrail terminals. Yesterday the Ontario Provincial Police uploaded a photo on their twitter account showing a potentially successful impact. The problem is, the driver still sustained serious injuries.
What is visible in the OPP photo is that the barrier bar has been split into individual sections and these sections have deformed into individual, curled ribbons. This is the type of deformation that causes the kinetic energy of an impacting vehicle to be dissipated in a controlled manner. Although there is damage to the front end of the vehicle that damage is moderate as exemplified by the lack of crush to the hood, no significant deformation around the left front wheel well, and the A-pillars are in their pre-crash state. So both the exterior of the vehicle and the barrier would appear to have done their job in working together to dissipate energy in a controlled manner. Such a combined dissipation means that the vehicle decelerates over a longer time and distance and therefore there is greater opportunity for the safety systems in the vehicle interior to perform in further reducing the severity of the forces exerted on the driver’s body.
So there is a little bit of mystery as to why the 81-year-old female driver of this vehicle sustained serious injury. It is not unusual to note that as persons age they are more frail and are prong to higher severities of injury than a younger person. But even so the severity of the forces that should have been exerted in this crash would be quite low provided that the interactions with the seat-belt and air bag systems were as expected.
This is another example where further probing is needed to determine what the specific injuries were and if they are the type that can be deemed acceptable. As an example, rib fractures might take place which are adjacent to each other and, because there is more than one fracture it ups the severity level of injury according to scales such as the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS). Yet if the driver had weak bones due to arthritis those injuries might be deemed understandable if they are not comminuted or displaced.
It is explanations such as these that can inform the public of the status of the safety systems around them and whether they are performing properly.
Remorse over a tragedy does not mean that we fail to inquire how and why the tragedy occurred. For the most obvious reason that we need to ensure that we have done all we can to prevent a similar happening in the future.
Thus it is necessary to determine why six persons perished in a head-on crash on Highway 93 near Jasper, Alberta on Tuesday, August 7, 2018. It was reported that a northbound van was carrying five family members including Nick Copeland and Angela Elkins who both perished. A head-on collision occurred with an unidentified southbound vehicle in which four of the occupants also perished. A comment mentioned in a CBC news article indicated “Both vehicles caught fire”.
Head-on collisions can be tremendously severe. In the most severe cases, which are extremely rare, two vehicles could potentially strike each other at speeds approaching 100 km/h. If the impact is “central”, or the opposing forces are directed at each vehicle’s centre-of-gravity, it is possible that all the pre-crash speed of each vehicle could be lost from the impact itself with no additional post-impact travel. This is the most severe possibility but it rarely occurs. In reality there is almost never such a central impact and some post-impact travel occurs meaning that not all of the vehicles’ speeds are lost in the impact itself. In fact, a majority of head-on collisions involve substantial post-impact motions meaning that a collision is rarely as severe as it potentially could be.
In terms of occupant protection vehicle manufacturers had made tremendous strides in making vehicles safer for occupants in a head-on collisions. The design of the vehicle’s structure is such that it dissipates the most kinetic energy, but importantly, in a controlled manner, while taking into account the percentages of collision severity a vehicle is likely to be involved in. Vehicle interiors have progressed through numerous improvements that also attempt to provide a controlled ride-down of the occupant’s body in the very limited time of just over a 1/10 of a second in which many severe head-on collisions occur. Not only does this controlled ride down involve air bags and seat belts but there is an understanding that knee bolsters, collapsing of steering columns and design of seats can all work together as a system to provide that controlled ride-down. We only need to look at the simple fact that in the mid-1970s there were approximately 7400 fatalities in motor vehicle collisions in Canada while in recent years that has now dropped to slightly under 2000.
Despite all this good news, advanced technology can still be defeated when something intrudes during the crash into the occupant compartment. It has been a long-standing fact that structural intrusion has been correlated with increased injury thus much effort has been placed on making sure that structural parts of the vehicle do not intrude the occupant space. Unfortunately there are two other types of intrusions that are not commonly understood as intrusions. Those being from water and from fire.
Water intrusion is what happens when occupants of a vehicle escape the severity of a crash but then the vehicle plunges into a body of water. It is not uncommon for vehicles to roll and come to rest upside down thus making even a very shallow depth of water life-threatening.
The other intrusion, fire, can also be as lethal. While attempting to protect vehicle occupants via crushing and dislocation of the vehicle body manufacturers have created the situation where this crushing and dislocation causes the doors of a vehicle to become jammed and/or certain portions of the vehicle entrap certain portions of an occupant’s body such as the lower legs. This entrapment can be acceptable in most cases when the alternative is the transfer of kinetic energy to the occupant’s body from the impact which leads to increased levels of injury. However when a fire erupts the situation is obviously problematic. Without an easy way to escape a vehicle the occupants who might have survived a severe crash may now become burned alive. This is not a pleasant topic of discussion and this is why it is not discussed.
In many ways when we avoid a topic that is unpleasant to us we can create the environment which prolongs its existence. In many instances when a fire is the cause of a crash victim’s death or injury it is not mentioned. No one questions the investigators whether the fire was preventable or whether there was some mechanism or factor that could have been changed to prevent the occurrence. Also no one questions what actions have been put forth to document the results and keep track of them much like we would do when we suspect a typical vehicle defect.
It would not make sense for example, to note that a wheel fell off a vehicle prior to a crash and do nothing even though one has observed that three previous crashes with the same vehicle also involved pre-crash wheel separations. In those instances the data is documented and further investigations are carried out to correct the problem. This process should not change simply because the defect could be a pre-mature fire and it has resulted in ugly consequences that we do not what to discuss. All motor vehicles deaths are ugly incidents. We have an obligation to investigate them properly and to take action to reduce them and their consequences.
In the present case the crash on Highway 93 near Jasper has all the indications that the four occupants of the unidentified vehicle that collided with the van may have sustained their fatal injuries due to the fire, or at least the fire contributed to the deaths. The possibility should be confirmed or denied. This issue is being ignored by the news media and it should not be ignored. When we bring that fact to light a momentum and awareness is developed that leads to change. Failing to create that momentum and awareness we become the instruments that prevent change from occurring.
Elizabeth Wettlaufer was a nurse in Ontario who was convicted of a number of homicides in nursing homes. It has recently been revealed that her acts could have been detected if coroner’s inquests were held to examine the deaths that appeared suspicious. However, Ontario’s chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer testified at Wettlaufer’s trial that budget cuts had resulted in reductions in the number of inquests from 3300 in 2007 to only 927 in 2015. It was not so much that budget cuts occurred but that those cuts and the decrease in oversight was not revealed to the general public. This issue is not only relevant to possible murders in nursing homes. It is relevant to all incidents of death in Ontario.
With respect to motor vehicle traffic fatalities there has been a continual lack of reporting of important facts about how persons have come to their deaths. Scant information is revealed by police and official news media report those facts often without any further investigation or questioning. An obvious problem is that many news organizations are seeing declines in ad revenue and therefore cuts have to be made. Numerous small and independent news gathering organizations have been shut down resulting in only a few mega-media reporting the same news story in almost every local establishment under their umbrella. The lack of independent reporting is an obvious concern when there is a need to question the cause of a death.
In recent months a small and independent newspaper, the Aylmer Express, attempted to gain further information into the July, 2017 death of a driver where it was deemed that he committed suicide when he drove off a cliff and into Lake Erie. The facts were not exactly clear as the OPP were also following the vehicle just before the collision. Additionally, a checkerboard sign which ought to be posted at the end of a road did not appear to exist where the vehicle left the road. These were serious matters that the Aylmer Express journalists attempted to clarify. However when the journalists passed through a police road closure they were arrested. A trial of the journalists was reportedly to take place this week but no news has emerged.
Even this weekend there have been several questionable traffic deaths that needed further explanation. CP24 News in Toronto is typically a more reliable source of many traffic fatalities in the Toronto area. However they reported yesterday, August 5th, 2018, that a fatal collision had occurred on McLaughlin Road North between Old School Road and Mayfield Road in Caledon but that police had not released any details about the crash and the area was closed off by police barricades. However, Gord Edick of Global News, was able to reach the site and a photograph was shown in a Global News article showing a vehicle stopped on the shoulder of a road and it was obvious that the vehicle had been totally consumed by a fire. It was reported that “human remains” were found in the vehicle. The photograph showed evidence of some possible minor damage to the rear of the vehicle but this could provide no explanation why such minor damage should cause the start of a fire or why the occupant of the vehicle was not able to escape the fire.
In another weekend incident, three fatalities occurred when it was reported that an SUV attempted to make a left turn and was struck by Corvette at the intersection of Highway 50 and Countryside Drive near Brampton/Vaughan. The SUV then struck a pole with its left side. Two children, aged 7 and 12 were killed along with a 47-year-old female driver. Photos suggested that two impacts occurred to the SUV that were of substantial severity. Such facts are not common. Additionally those who are familiar with the sources of severe and fatal injuries would know that children in the noted age groups are not as well protected because of their growing out of child seats and booster cushions while also suffering from poor seat belt geometry that is often designed form adult bodies. When children of this age group sustain fatal injuries under collision circumstances like these further questions should be asked because we want to reduce the likelihood that these tragedies will not repeat themselves.
These are examples of “Elizabeth Wettlaufers” in the world of traffic fatalities. They are hidden causes of a death. How many of these Elizabeth Wettlaufers exist in the realm of traffic deaths? Are some of these actual homicides? Are they due to some form of motor vehicle defect? Are there other traffic fatalities out there that are related to other unknown sources? Independent investigations of death have been reduced. While basic reporting is parroted by news media from information provided by police, little or no, actual, additional investigation is conducted by news gathering organizations. This is a recipe for the continuance of “Elizabeth Wettlaufer Causes of Death” that could remain hidden with little public knowledge of the facts.
There is much official talk about the dangers of drunk driving. Various non-profit, police and government organizations say they are working hard to eradicate the problem. The solution mostly involves punishing those impaired persons after the fact in the belief that stiff penalties are the only way to prevent future incidents.
It was an amusing news article this week that caught the attention of many who likely failed to understand an underlying, important point. Maybe this could have been a part of a Rodney Dangerfield stand-up comedy routine.
The story was that a man was drinking at a bar in the early morning of Wednesday, August 1, 2018. He wanted to prove to his friends that he was not impaired so he allegedly drove to a police station in Mississauga, Ontario and asked police to give him a breath test. It was reported that his blood-alcohol level was 1 1/2 times the legal limit and he was subsequently charged driving with an alcohol level over the .80 limit. Many persons reviewing the story would have found it amusing while moving on to the next, more important matter of life. However there was a deeper message in this.
After drinking several alcoholic beverages does a person have the same capability of reasoning as someone who is sober? Surely not as this is one of the reasons why we want alcohol-impaired individuals off the highway. However, what happens when an alcohol-impaired person comes to the mistaken belief that they are not alcohol impaired? Is that an easy thing to do? Oh, surely not. Or is it? Without the ability to objectively test this hypothesis many persons simply provide their uninformed and biased beliefs on the issue.
In recent months the Costco big box store has been selling a personal, blood-alcohol, reading device, “BACtrack”, for under $40. Recent testing of the device by several volunteers demonstrated how little they understood about impairment and when they had surpassed the legal limit.
One of the surprising facts, but not surprising to officials who constantly deal with impairment, is that alcohol concentration can rise even after a person has stopped drinking. Thus after consuming several alcoholic drinks a person may believe that they are under the limit, and they may, in fact, be under the limit, when they stopped drinking. But as the alcohol becomes absorbed into the blood stream the person’s reasoning becomes impaired while their blood alcohol concentration also rises.
It would seem logical therefore that an instrument that can provide a more objective reporting of a person’s blood alcohol concentration might be helpful, even to the alcohol impaired person, as opposed to depending on that impaired person’s reasoning to make that judgment. As the objective measuring device presumably does not become impaired along with the drinker it can inform that person that their reasoning is impaired, they are wrong and that the device is providing them with an unbiased fact.
Surprisingly, while there are many organizations willing to demonize those who have injured or killed while driving impaired, there is little official effort being made to distribute personal blood-alcohol meters that might prevent impaired driving from getting behind the wheel.
The disintegration of a vehicle that collided with an ET-PLUS guardrail terminal on the south side of Highway 401 just west of Highbury Avenue in London, Ontario, did not actually happen. Or so it would seem since there has been little information of its occurrence or consequences. Portions of the separated vehicle such as its front bumper, its engine, transmission and windshield were all found strewn throughout the roadside. The ET-PLUS terminal that it struck was also separated in an unusual manner such that the frontal plate became separated from its rear channel and that plate was never found.
Further research indicates that the ET-PLUS located at this site had been impacted in a collision that was documented by Gorski Consulting on January 27, 2016. The three photos below show the general area and status of the impacted terminal at that time.
The problem with the performance of this installation is that, although substantial energy was dissipated through buckling of the guardrail in the background, very little of the energy was actually dissipated in passage of the rail through the throat of the terminal, as it is designed to do. It can be seen in the photo below that the guardrail came jammed at the back of the terminal’s channel when the terminal became deflected to a 90 degree angle. Buckling like this cannot result in any further movement of the terminal along the rail and the performance of the system becomes chaotic with unpredictable.
A top view of the terminal, shown below, demonstrates how a small length of guardrail managed to pass through the throat of the terminal before it became jammed.
Following this impact a new ET-PLUS terminal was installed, as shown in the two photos below taken on February 26, 2016.
View of the site on February 26, 2016 showing that a new ET-PLUS terminal had been installed after the impact in January of 2016.
There were no subsequent impacts of the ET-PLUS terminal until the one that occurred on July 23, 2018. Questions remain about the lack of reporting of the collision and its consequences. Even if there was a lone driver who miraculously escaped any serious injury one would think that this would have been a news-worthy story.
On the morning of Monday, July 23, 2018, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) reported on their Twitter account that a collision occurred on Highway 401 near the Highbury Ave exit at London, Ontario. No other information was made available nor did any official news organization report any further details of the crash. Gorski Consulting examined the site of the crash on July 27th, with some disturbing results.
A vehicle had been eastbound on Highway 401 and as it approached the exit ramp toward Highbury Ave. It veered off the pavement and headed toward the south guardrail. The end of the guardrail was equipped with an ET-PLUS terminal that was manufactured by Trinity Highway Products of Dallas, Texas. Anyone who has been following the status of roadside collisions in recent years would have heard about the controversy surrounding the ET-PLUS terminal as there was a well-publicized civil trial that took place claiming that the terminal was detective. While the U.S. Federal Highway Administration failed to confirm that the terminal was any worse that other systems the manner in which that conclusion was drawn was suspect. Regardless, the ET-PLUS terminal has received a record of questionable performance.
Gorski Consulting has been monitoring the performance of ET-PLUS terminals since becoming aware of the controversy in 2014. Since then an increasing number of installations have been examined and the results of impacts have been documented. Questionable results have been found yet there has been no official response from agencies such as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation which continues to allow the terminals to exist on Ontario’s highways. While the ET-PLUS used to be the primary and most popular terminal installed in Ontario, there has been a quiet replacement of those installations toward other manufacturers without further explanation.
The most recent impact of the ET-PLUS terminal on Highway 401 at Highbury Ave exemplifies the concerns about the performance of the terminal. The photo below shows the status of the impacted terminal when it was inspected on July 27, or about 4 days after the actual collision.
Upon first approach to the struck terminal it appeared to be missing from the end of the guardrail, as shown in the photo below.
The photo below shows a view of the ET-PLUS in October, 2014 when it was first surveyed as part of a research study.
Upon closer inspection it was revealed that the back portion of the ET-PLUS terminal, the channel, was still present and attached to the guardrail. However the frontal plate was missing, as shown in the photo below.
A close-up view of the location where the channel was welded onto the plate showed that there had been a separation. This is a rare occurrence based on the select impacts that have been observed to date. The photo below shows a close-up view of the area of the separation in the weld of the terminal.
Looking at the remainder of the guardrail there was evidence that it had buckled and therefore some energy was dissipated, as shown in the photo below.
But that is not the way the system was designed to perform. As shown in a controlled test in the photo below, the head (plate) and channel of the terminal is supposed to be pushed along the guardrail like a locomotive riding a railway track. In doing so, the rail is supposed to pass through a narrowing in the terminal (“the throat”) which causes the guardrail to become deformed, like a ribbon. This process of squeezing through the throat and deforming the guardrail is the mechanism by which energy is dissipated in a controlled manner.
Looking east along the side of the highway from where the impact occurred there were numerous parts of the vehicle which disintegrated, as shown in the photo below.
Looking east along the side of the highway there was evidence of many pieces of the striking vehicle which disintegrated after the barrier impact.
Some of the major components of the separated vehicle that were found strewn along the roadside was the front bumper reinforcement bar. This is the metal part of the bumper that is behind the plastic exterior. A cord was attached from one end of the bar to the other to demonstrate the extent of crush of the unit, which should normally be straight.
Measuring the crush of the bar with a tape measure showed that the crush was about 46 centimeters, as shown in the photo below. Measurements like these can be used to estimate the extent of energy that was dissipated while also providing an estimate of the collision severity in terms of its change in velocity (Delta-V). Those calculations can be difficult when a vehicle disintegrates.
The width of the notch in the reinforcement bar was also revealing. As shown in the photo below, the maximum penetration was over a width of 40 centimeters.
As confirmation, the photo below shows a measurement being taken of the plate of a typical ET-PLUS terminal. The width of 40 centimetres is the same as the width of the maximum crush in the re-enforcement bar.
So, even without having the opportunity to examine the vehicle, we can say that it was likely not sliding sideways, or not even in a substantial yaw, when it struck the terminal.
Another part of the vehicle that was found on the roadside was the vehicle’s engine, as shown below.
Close to the location where the engine was resting the separated transmission was also nearby as shown in the photo below.
Walking further eastward the vehicle’s separated windshield was found.
Walking further to the east an area of fractured red lens material was found. This is where the remaining portion of the vehicle tumbled and one of the rear corners of the vehicle made ground contact before coming to rest.
Walking still further eastward an area of trampled grass was located where the remaining portion of the disintegrated vehicle had come to rest, as shown in the photo below.
Some measurements were taken to establish where the various portions of the vehicle had come to rest. Using the original position of the ET-PLUS as a zero point, the front bumper came to rest 39.0 metres to the east, the engine came to rest 53 metres and the remaining portion of the vehicle came to rest at 69 metres east of the original location of the terminal. Assuming a rather moderate deceleration level of 0.5g, the vehicle’s rest position at 69 metres would indicate that the vehicle left the area of impact, at a speed of about 94 km/h. That speed is after the deceleration caused from damaging the barrier and causing the crush to its front end. Clearly this was a high speed impact yet it is an impact speed that is tested for safety compliance of the barrier system.
The curiosity of this incident is the lack of any official, public reporting of its consequences. It is possible that, through some miraculous circumstance, the driver, or perhaps additional occupants survived this massive collision without major injury. But that seems rather doubtful. So why was it not reported to the public?