Highway 401 Safety Issues – Traffic Volumes

Gorski Consulting has documented the Highway 401 traffic volume in its continuing series on safety along the South-western Ontario segment of the highway. A series of videotaping sessions was conducted at four sites along the highway. The video is being analysed and findings will be reported in future postings to this website.

The current discussion will review the traffic volumes that were documented during our videotaping sessions. It can be recalled from previous posts that multiple video cameras were set up at four sites as shown below.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

The Elgin Road site was documented in November of 016. At that time procedures were not fully developed and camera positions were such that traffic volume was not easy to determine.

The three remaining sites were documented this fall (2018). Videotaping was conducted for approximately 2 hours at the three sites. Procedures were altered such that cameras were positioned on an overpass which provided a view along the length of the highway. This made it easy to count vehicles and obtain a total traffic volume. The site at Westminster Drive was videotaped a second time on December 2, 2018 because of the interesting observations that were made in the original study on October 30th.

The table below summarizes the observed traffic volumes at the three sites.

It can be observed that there are differences in the traffic depending on the day in the week. For example a weekend such as Sunday produces substantially less heavy truck traffic as indicated in the December 2nd data.

The data for Dillon Road was obtained on the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday and, being a Friday, a low amount of heavy truck traffic would be expected because most drivers would  be at home for the holidays. This is demonstrated in the very low truck counts for November 23rd (318) even though the videotaping occurred on a weekday.

We can also see the difference in non-truck traffic. A very large number of non-trucks were observed on the Sunday of December 2nd.

These differences in the volume and characteristics of the traffic on Highway 401 need to be considered when we are discussing the safety of the highway. The presence of heavy trucks is likely to be one of the major factors in the highway’s collision history. As noted previously, truck traffic is limited to travel at a maximum of 105 km/h whereas the light vehicles travel much faster, about 116 to 118 km/h. This difference occurs even though the heavy trucks are slowing the other vehicles by “interfering” in their travel. While slowing these speeders may be a good thing it is also creating traffic conflicts that we need to consider.

Further details  from the video data will be revealed as it becomes available and will be posted to the Gorski Consulting website.

Driver Drowning at Port Bruce, Ontario

Why would a driver arrive at a traffic controlled beach in order to drive into the water and drown?

On December 4, 2018 a 66-year-old male driver reportedly drove through a private driveway and into Lake Erie in Port Bruce, Ontario. The official facts reported to the public is that the vehicle was found in the water at approximately 0800 hours by a local volunteer firefighter. The firefighter was also an employee of the local road works crew.

It was stated that the time when the vehicle entered the water was not known but that police did not believe there was any foul play involved. Several days have passed yet no further information has been provided about how this incident transpired.

It is peculiar that this drowning occurred where it did. It is a location where the road traffic along the beach is well guarded by a number of large, closely-spaced, concrete blocks. Any driver who was intent on committing suicide would find it difficult to find a location where they could enter the water.

Officially it was claimed that the vehicle entered the water through a residential driveway located right next to the end of the beach. The photos below provide an explanation of the site details.

This is the far end of the beach where the concrete blocks are replaced by a wooden fence belonging to the first property adjacent to the beach. The driveway of this property was the reported location where the vehicle entered the water.
Looking from the beach side of the concrete blocks the property at the upper right corner of this view is where the residential driveway was located where the vehicle entered the water. The tire tracks in the grass were caused by emergency personal who removed one of the concrete blocks to access the water located behind the camera.
This view shows the residence and driveway used by the vehicle driver to enter the water in the background.

It is peculiar that the deceased driver would have selected the residential driveway in order to enter the water. In one was wanting to commit suicide it could have been much easier to simply step out of the vehicle and jump in the water at any point along the beach. So why go this somewhat elaborate procedure of searching for a driveway in order to enter the water?

Looking into the driveway one could see some tire marks on the grass and it was explained that these marks were caused by the vehicle that entered the water.

This is a view looking through the residential driveway toward the water in the background. Some faint tire marks can be seen on the grass and they seem to travel into the water.
The location where the vehicle entered the water is in the background. It can be seen that this is a small channel next to the beach and there is a stone walk at the end of the driveway with a sudden drop into the water. The  top of the wall itself is a only a couple of feet above the water.

Views of the white SUV as it was removed from the water showed that it appeared to sustain substantial damage to its front end. The local fire chief explained that such damage would not be unusual. It is not clear how this damage could be caused from simply striking the water. The drop of the vehicle from the top of the wall at the water’s edge would be minor and the vehicle’s fall would be cushioned by striking that water.

Looking at the grass in the driveway there is no evidence of upheaval that would suggest that the vehicle was accelerated to a higher speed. The tire marks on the grass are indicative of rolling tires. If there was hard acceleration there should have been evidence of the grass being torn up by the spinning tires. The very short length of the residential driveway would also provide minimal opportunity for the vehicle to accelerate to a high speed.

In totality the evidence would suggest some peculiar happenings that are not readily explained by the official version of what took place. Suicide does not appear to be an obvious explanation. Yet no one has provided an explanation of why this tragedy occurred.

School Buses & Seat-Belts – Continued Confusion and Misunderstanding

The CBC has ignited a controversy regarding seat-belt use on school buses that has resulted in confusion and misunderstanding.

We all understand that keeping children safe on school buses is of great importance. However what may appear to be an obvious solution is not. This issue is complicated and a quick fix may lead to more danger than is realized.

In the most recent news, the CBC has reported that certain Micro Bird minibuses contain a safety detect with respect to insufficient padding at the back face of seat-backs. This lack of padding could cause injury to children during heavy braking or other longitudinal deceleration such as a frontal impact.  The requirement for padding evolves from the fact that school buses are not equipped with seat-belts and the padding is needed as the partial substitute.

It needs to be understood that minibuses are far different from full size buses with respect to the type and severity of injuries that could be generated. Minibuses, as the name implies, are much smaller and weight much less than full size school buses. These are important facts. Mass (weight) is a critical factor in determining whether an occupant will be injured and what type or severity of injury will be sustained. Because of their lower mass and volume minibuses may generate different types and severities of injuries than full size school buses. This point has never been made in discussions about school bus seat-belts.

Unfortunately many persons are jumping on the bandwagon and declaring their support for installation of seat-belts on school buses without really understanding why Transport Canada decided not to mandate their installation. Seat-belt installation and usage may help prevent some injuries and reduce the severity of others but on the flip side, other injuries will occur through usage of seat-belts, some of which could be life-threatening. The discussion so far is short on  examining the full complexity of the issue and this could adversely affect  the safety of innocent children.

Fires Continue to Erupt After Recent Collisions

This fatal collision on Brock Road in Pickering is being investigated by the SIU. However the fire that erupted is also a concern.

The above photo was posted on the CP24 News website describing a fatal collision in Pickering, Ontario. The collision is under investigation by Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU). The SIU becomes involved when serious injuries occur that might be caused by police. Aside from the SIU investigation the photo above shows that a Purolator truck was one of the vehicles involved in the incident. Markings on the front and left side of the truck provide obvious signs that it had caught fire.

Little concern is being expressed by the news media and police investigators with respect to the number of fires that have been occurring after recent serious collisions. These fires are important because they are a genuine threat to the lives of persons who may not be able to exit a damaged vehicle. Being trapped inside a damaged vehicle is not an uncommon occurrence. Especially when the damage (crush) is significant. The damage is necessary in order to dissipate the kinetic energy of a crash. However sometimes such damage may entrap an occupant. Emergency personnel are needed to perform a variety of cutting and prying of the vehicle structure in order to free an occupant. But when a fire erupts it can engulf a vehicle before emergency personnel can arrive. Or, even if emergency personnel arrive, the fire may have spread so much that it may be too late. That is why it is crucially important to make note of collisions where fires erupt and to report those incidents to government agencies such as Transport Canada.

Transport Canada is the agency responsible for the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS). One of those standards governs the eruption of fires after motor vehicle collisions. Transport Canada must monitor the eruption of fires in real life collisions to determine whether additional actions are needed to protect the public. If Transport Canada is not notified that information is lost. Thus there should be inquiries made to determine if police agencies are following the proper procedures and notifying Transport Canada of these dangerous incidents.

Observed Speed of Vehicles On Hwy 401 At Four Sites

View showing several cones placed at 100-metre intervals with video cameras pointed at each cone location along Highway 401. This method enables an average speed to be calculated within each road segment.

What kind of safety problems exist along the busiest highway in Canada? Government agencies such as the Ontario Ministry of Transportation monitor traffic along Highway 401 but that information is not made available to the public. Some of this data could be educational and therefore valuable for the public’s ability to make informed conclusions about what actions need to be taken to improve the Highway’s safety.

In response Gorski Consulting has engaged in a series of documentations of traffic with the use of multiple, synchronized, video cameras. The documentations typically involve a highway overpass where cameras can be set up to look along the length of the highway. Additionally, cameras are placed at markers spaced out at 100-metre intervals (example shown above) such that average speeds can be obtained within those intervals.These methods enable calculations of important facts regarding traffic motions and potential safety problems. Gorski Consulting will be presenting an number of findings from these studies in order to inform and educate the public on these important issues.

In this present article we present the general results of average speeds of westbound traffic at four different sites, as noted below.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

The table below provides a summary of those observations.

Several explanations need to be provided to appreciate the meaning of these data. Firstly, heavy, Class 8 trucks, which are typically a tractor with one or more trailers, have their speeds governed (limited) to a maximum of about 105 km/h. These trucks are mixed in with the higher-speed, light vehicles such as passenger cars, pick-ups, SUVs, etc. While most of these trucks travel within the right lane, some of them travel in the median lane for short periods especially when proceeding with a passing motion of another, slower truck. The above data includes the speed of those slower trucks except in the Elgin Road site where no trucks were observed in the median lane. The explanation at the Elgin Road site is because the highway at this location is made up of 3 lanes. Thus heavy trucks that make a passing motion will move from the right lane into the middle lane so that they do not need to travel in the median lane.

Some appreciation of the traffic volumes can be had from noting that observations were made for just under 8 minutes at the Elgin Road site yet 62 vehicles were documented in that short time. Conversely at the Dillon Road site documentations were carried out for over 40 minutes, or about 5 times as long, while slightly over 2 times more observations (119) were made. So the volume of traffic in the median lane at the Dillon site was much less, there were fewer trucks in that lane and the average speed of vehicles was therefore higher.

Data like this needs to be evaluated when discussions are made about the safety of Highway 401. Many members of the public have questions about the safety of installations such as the high tension median barrier that is being installed between Tilbury and London. This installation is precisely in the zone of three of the four sites being discussed in this article. Construction is also being carried out in this zone and much concern has been expressed about how this leads to crashes with stopped vehicles. Also when snowfall arrives there will be conclusions expressed about the collisions that will result. All these concerns by the public need quality data which Gorski Consulting hopes to provide.

This report provides a preliminary example of the type of data that will be revealed and discussed in future items posted in this Gorski Consulting website in the near future.

The Honorable Mr. Harry Leslie Smith

“I am one of the last few remaining voices left from a generation of men and women who built a better society for our children and grandchildren out of the horrors of the second world war, as well as the hunger of the Great Depression. Sadly, that world my generation helped build on a foundation of decency and fair play is being swept away by neoliberalism and the greed of the 1%, which has brought discord around the globe. Today, the western world stands at its most dangerous juncture since the 1930s.” (Harry Leslie Smith)

Mr. Smith reminds us that each day we awake and step forward to a crossroad that has profound implications on where we arrive at sundown.

Honorably, Mr. Smith passed away on November 28, 2018.

Highway 401 – Four Sites Explored for Traffic Motions & Problems

Gorski Consulting has now completed four sites along Highway 401 in southwestern Ontario where video data was obtained to explore traffic motions and potential safety problems. The map below shows the sites.

Location of testing sites along Highway 401 where traffic observations were made.

Analysis of the video data is ongoing. One of several safety concerns along the highway is the installation of a high-tension cable barrier system between Tilbury and London, Ontario. Some local groups have expressed concerns whether the cable barrier will stop massive tractor-trailers from crossing the median.

Given that 40 to 50 % of traffic travelling along this section of Highway 401 is made up of heavy trucks it is imperative that a median barrier be of such a design that prevents median cross-over collisions.

Gorski consulting expects to study a variety of safety issues and traffic patterns. Results will be posted on the Gorski Consulting website (www.gorskiconulting.com). More scholarly assessments will be written as technical papers and will also be presented at a variety of future conferences.

World-Wide Only 10 % of Bicycle Accidents Are Reported

Under-reporting of bicycle accidents results in not knowing the dangers posed to them.

A recent article (by D. Shinar et. al.) published in the Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 110, January 2018) examined the official reporting of bicycle accidents in 17 nations. It was estimated that only about 10% of such collisions were officially reported. Such data indicates the concern that should be shared with respect to recent attempts to build infrastructure in Canada to accommodate cyclists without having a firm understanding of what environments may be more dangerous.

OPP Conduct Focused Patrols on Hwy 401 Near Chatham Resulting in 629 Charges

Reports indicate that the Ontario Provincial Police have been focused on the area of Highway 401 near construction zones between London and Chatham. 629 charges have been laid since June of 2018 including 469 for speeding.

One of the complaints of unsafe actions included late merging of vehicles where a lane is closed. The London Free Press quoted Constable Jay Denorer ont this issue:

“A lot of times, coming down to one lane, people will start passing on the shoulder (of the road) to try and get in front of somebody,” he said. Noting there is ample notification of construction zones ahead, Denorer said “there’s no reason for it, it’s just people being impatient.”

Yet there could be reason.

In the past year or two there has been considerable publicity focused on drivers to adopt a new merging technique called the “Zipper Merge” when approaching a closed lane. The approach was supported in the State of Minnesota and supported by research from Germany and the Viriginal Transportation Research Council. The City of London has also promoted the Zipper Merge as described on its website:

“The zipper merge is a late merge strategy where all available lanes of traffic are used right up to the lane closure. Drivers then alternate into the open lane. The zipper merge strategy is most effective when there are high traffic volumes on the road, combined with low average speeds due to congestion.”

On Hwy 401 this late merge while approaching a construction zone is safe because of a relatively low traffic volume.

There is plenty of room to complete this late merge because the traffic volume is low.

While it is believed that persons who approach a closed lane late are doing so to pass other traffic, that conclusion may not be clear when drivers are following the instructions of the Zipper Merge. Confusion and misunderstandings can occur when lane changes need to be made at the last instant without clear guidance as to what speeds are appropriate and which driver has the official right to cross in front of another. These misunderstandings can be sorted out when merging occurs earlier before the situation turns into an emergency.

With respect to speeding, the 469 charges laid by the OPP since June may need to be put into perspective. Recent observations by Gorski Consulting of traffic along Highway 401 between London and Chatham have shown that not a single vehicle was found to be travelling at, or below, the speed limit of 100 km/h. The typical traffic volume along this section of the highway might be in the range of 50,000 vehicles per day. Assuming 5 months of focused patrolling, or about 150 days, this would mean that there were a total of 7.5 million official speeders on Highway 401 but only 469 were charged. One could conclude that the probability of being charged for speeding would be about 0.006 percent!

Is this “99 km/h” speed understood to be speeding? If it was not in a construction zone the OPP might interpret that it is not. But who knows?

Everyone understands that the official speed limit of 100 km/h is not the practical speed limit that is inforced. Observations suggest that the enforced speed limit may be something in the range of 120 km/h, but only the OPP know for sure. But what speed is being enforced within a construction zone? If the speed limit is 80 km/h do the OPP only charge drivers who are travelling at 100 km/h or higher? There would appear to be some confusion surrounding this point.

Compulsorary Truck Driver Training – An Effective Way of Improving Trucking Safety?

An example of a truck collision resulting in a fire in Cambridge, Ontario in May of 2018.

Traffic fatalities have gone on the upswing again in the past couple of years after many decades of decreases. However in the U.S. early estimates for traffic fatalities for 2017 indicate that a slight decrease of about 0.8 percent is expected in comparision to 2016 data. Despite this good news there is a gloomy statistic: “Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck are projected to increase by 10 precent” (NHTSA ,Traffic Safety Facts, May, 2018).

In the Province of Ontario mandatory truck driver training commencd in July of 2017. Such training costs approximately $10,000 and must be completed before an applicant can arrange for a Ministry driver’s test to obtain a license (Class A) to drive typical, air-brake-equipped, Class 8, tractor-trailer type trucks. Due to the horrific crash of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus in Saskatchewan earlier this year there have been calls for similar mandatory training across Canada.

The belief that such mandatory truck driver training is required must be based on a reasonable expectation that the training will reduce the number and/or severity of truck crashes. It must overcome the counter argument that driver training may only provide a means by which prospective drivers can perform on the “stage of evaluation” while their true nature will be revealed once they obtain a full license and no longer need to continue that performance. Time may tell which holds true, or whether the truth is a combination of both.

In the meantime, Gorski Consulting is gathering data on the actions of truck drivers via videotaped observations on Highway 401, which is the main expressway that travels through the southern portion fo the Province of Ontario. Depending on the location along the highway, heavy truck traffic can be in the range of 40 to 50 percent. This makes for a good opportunity to determine what improvements may been needed to reduce those deadly increases of 10 percent in heavy truck fatalities.

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