It cannot be sufficient to provide confusing information about a double-fatal collision because the death of any member of the public needs to be reliably explained. Persons die mysteriously in unexplained ways in unlawful countries where dictators rule and mobs roam.
Both CTV News and the London Free Press reported that, on August 28, 2020, two vehicles were eastbound on Highway 2 in Zorra Township just west of Woodstock Ontario when they collided resulting in the death of two occupants of an SUV. It would be unusual that both agencies could be wrong about the vehicle travel directions therefore it is likely that they obtained this information from a police news release.
We have not been able to locate a photo from the investigating OPP showing the collision site. Such photos are often attached on their Twitter account. But not this time.
A photo was attached to the CTV News article. Unfortunately, news agencies view their photos as proprietary so we cannot show the photo in this article. The photo showed a view looking generally eastward from the north side of Highway 2. The photo showed a white stake truck straddling the westbound lane and pointing generally northward. So if the stake truck was initially travelling eastbound then it rotated almost 90 degrees to it final rest position. The stake truck also exhibited frontal crush that appeared to be predominantly on the left of its front end. The photo provided a poor indication of the Stake truck’s damage but this is the best that we can say. So up to this point the evidence is not contradictory. The photo also showed an SUV in the north ditch pointing generally in a north-east. But the SUV was partially obscured by bushes this only the rear end and the rear of the left side of the SUV were visible. It was reported that the two deceased occupants were in that SUV. All these verbal descriptions would have been unnecessary if the photo was allowed to be shown. At a time when the public has developed a short attention span detailed verbal descriptions are unlikely to be understood except by those few who have some specific focus.
Now here is the confusing part of this scenario: The rear end of the SUV showed little or no evidence of contact damage.
Putting these facts together, the official reports indicate that both vehicles were eastbound and the stake truck had direct-contact damage to the left of its front end. So there should be damage on the rear end of the SUV that would match with the frontal damage to the SUV. But the photo does not show any damage to the rear end of the SUV. So readers must puzzle over this confusing information.
The CTV photo shows that Oxford Rd 45 is in the foreground and this road intersects with Highway 2. The debris field is located only a few metres east of the intersection of the two roads. So could the SUV have come out of Oxford Road 45 just before impact? Thus there could be damage to the right side of the SUV that is not visible in the photo. But why would police state that both vehicles were eastbound when clearly that would not provide a coherent explanation of what took place?
If there was damage to either of the sides of the SUV it would not explain why both occupants were killed. Clearly contact to the right side of the SUV from the Stake truck which is generally travelling the same direction as the SUV cannot produce the type of crush that could threaten the life of an occupant seated on the far side of the SUV.
In subsequent articles posted on September 11, 2020, news agencies reported that the 27-year-old driver of the Stake truck was charged with two counts of Careless Driving Causing Death. An additional photo was posted in the CTV News article which showed a closer view of the rear end and left side of the SUV. The SUV was still in the ditch so parts of it were hidden by tall brush. This additional photo showed some minimal damage to the left-rear bumper of the SUV at its tail pipe. But this minimal damage was not consistent the substantial damage a the left portion of the Stake truck’s front end.
So from the charges laid against the Stake truck driver we must surmise that the collision occurred because the driver did something that was improper. The collision could not have occurred whereby the Stake truck attempted to pass the SUV because the damage to the Stake truck is on the left portion of its front end. And, if the Stake truck driver was eastbound then its travel direction was not controlled by a stop sign or traffic signal. So that cannot explain why the Stake truck driver was charged. And the evidence does not support a possible rear-end impact scenario although that cannot be fully excluded. While the SUV may have struck some solid object within the ditch, thus creating substantial frontal damage and thereby explaining the reason for the death of the two occupants, one would think that police would have reported such an important fact.
So there is no logical explanation for the evidence visible in the photos if indeed both vehicles were eastbound before the impact. There has been a very poor explanation of the evidence. There has to be some accountability by police and official news media for such results. When persons die the reasons for why and how they die cannot be known only to the select few. One need not look far into the past to understand that in many parts of the world the deaths of innocent persons have been a frivolous matter. It requires that we accept our responsibility to ensure that all lives matter.
The best that can be said about police actions is that they posted photos of a harpooned vehicle so that the public could consider the consequences. Only a couple of news agencies picked up on the story, as if it was of minimal importance.
Nipissing West OPP reported on their Twitter account that on Saturday morning, September 5, 2020, a southbound vehicle struck a guard rail “which went through the veh”. The collision occurred on Highway 69 near Sudbury, Ontario, but no specific location was noted. It was reported that the 52-year-old female driver sustained a severed foot. To add insult to injury the OPP charged the driver with Careless Driving. At no point did police make the public aware of the inappropriate functioning of the barrier system or that the existence of such a system could pose a life-threatening situation to other future drivers.
The following three photos represent the remaining ones posted by the OPP to their twitter account.
What is revealing in these photos is that the OPP must be incapable of understanding the importance of what needs to be revealed to the public. This is so because of the fact that in neither of the photos did they show the end of the guardrail that would have been the “point of the spear” that commenced the harpooning of the vehicle. Otherwise it would have to be believed that this was done on purpose, which would be difficult to conceive.
It is difficult to accept that the OPP would not be aware of the controversy surrounding harpooning of vehicles that has been in the news media for at least the last 7 or 8 years. It was initially alleged that such harpooning was being caused by a specific guardrail terminal, the ET-Plus terminal, manufactured by Trinity Highway Products of Dallas Texas.
As an example of the many news articles written on the subject, Global News wrote an article in October, 2015 entitled “Controversial guardrail system installed on roads across Canada”. In that article Global News reported that approximately “5,000 steel beam energy attenuating guide rail terminals have been installed on provincial highways throughout Ontario, with the majority of the systems being manufactured by Trinity Highway Products”. At that time there were allegations that the ET-Plus had an undisclosed design change that could “cause it to act like a spear on impact slicing through cars and amputating legs”. After these allegations “approximately 40 states suspended installations of the device” and “The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) also decided to gather information on how the ET-Plus was performing on the roads and conduct a series of crash tests”. Controversy surrounded these activities that to this day has not been fully cleared. Yet it can be observed that many jurisdictions, including Ontario, have been quietly installing different terminals from other manufacturers without explaining why this decision was made. What remains is that there are still numerous installations of ET-Plus terminals existing throughout Ontario’s highway system.
So it remains a mystery why the OPP photos of the vehicle and site did not include a photo which could allow a determination whether the harpooned vehicle in the above photos had interacted with an ET-Plus terminal. Similarly the few official news media that took up the story also did not inform the public of the possible historical controversy that has existed over recent years.
The point is that, regardless of what system was installed at the site, the public should not accept that a vehicle should be harpooned in this fashion. This is a potentially deadly outcome that was avoided in this unique instance by pure luck. Neither investigating police nor official news media made the public aware of this fact. This is a very disappointing inaction by those who are entrusted in protecting and informing the public of deadly dangers on our highways.
Official news media reported that a 77-year-old cyclist was killed when he was struck by a pick-up truck as he tried to cross Gainsborough Road in west London, Ontario on Saturday, September 5, 2020. The view available to the pick-up truck driver is shown in the above photo, taken on September 6th. It can be seen that the cycling trail is not visible and there is no signage to warn drivers that cyclists might be crossing.
As active transportation has become a big issue in the last few years cities like London Ontario have been trying to play catch up by installing various cycling infrastructure without much attention to details such as cyclist safety. Cycling paths are no different than roadways that carry motorized traffic; both require proper design, correct signage and regular maintenance. In particular roadway design has understood the importance of providing sufficient visibility. That must also apply to the design of cycling paths. At the Gainsborough site shown above, trees and shrubs exist all the way up to the edge of the traffic-way such that neither the cyclist nor the motor vehicle driver have sufficient time and distance to detect the other’s existence. Problems like these need to be detected and corrected before a tragedy occurs, but that is not happening quickly enough.
One of the reasons for this delay is that a vast number of collisions, whether involving motorized vehicles, or cyclists, are not officially documented. In a previous post to this website on November 21, 2018 we quoted research by D. Shinar et. al., in an article published in the Accident Analysis & Prevention journal (January, 2018) that estimated the percentage of cyclist collisions reported in 17 nations. That research concluded that only about 10% of such collisions were officially reported.
Gorski Consulting has found similar results with motorized collisions, even though our research has been made difficult to publicize in Canada. Our study of the collisions at a single site, Clarke Road in the north-east sector of London, also showed that collisions at the S-curve north of Fanshawe Park Road were rarely documented in official police records in comparison to the physical evidence that was documented at the site. While the evidence indicated that most of the unreported collisions were minor it demonstrates that the opportunity to gain evidence of road safety problems was lost.
The problem is compounded when the evidence from serious collisions like the one on the Gainsborough Road site is never publicly shared. The results of police investigations simply become filed with unknown entities. Local news media reported that police used a drone to document the collision evidence at the Gainsborough site. Other technology such as total stations and expensive cameras demonstrate the use of public funds to collect evidence that, in turn, is never shared with the public for the public’s benefit.
A news article published by the London Free Press on September 6, 2020 entitled “Cyclist who came upon fatal crash scene thinks poor sightlines a factor”, quoted a longtime cyclist, Glynn Davies, who observed “When you’re coming from the north of the bike path, there’s bushes on the right, so you would have to come pretty cautiously to get across the road. It could be dangerous…You can’t see long distance…beyond the sidewalk to make sure that nothing’s coming”. Unofficial observations like these are logical and should also have been made by official entities such as police investigators. Unfortunately, while police are sure to document and report on speeding, impairment or driver distraction, they continually fail to report equally dangerous factors related to roadway design, signage and maintenance.
With respect to cycling infrastructure there is little or no public information available about cyclist traffic volumes or numbers of collisions outside of the roadway system used by motor vehicles. The City’s Multi-use Path system for example seems to be used increasingly due to factors such as the Covid-19 epidemic, yet safety concerns on the system have remained for many years without official acknowledgement.
Some examples of problems on the Multi-Use Path system are shown below, documented in August of 2013. In the two images below orange paint was used with considerable effect to highlight the problems but this paint is usually “road paint” that fades away within a couple of weeks or months.
The above photo showing the concrete pillar next to the cycling path was made more visible in 2010 when graffiti vandals painted it, as shown below.
Other dangers are rarely highlighted as shown in the additional two photos below, also taken in August of 2013. A structural hazard has existed on the path at the railway bridge east of Adelaide Street in that visibility is extremely limited. A mirror had been installed next to the edge of the path a number years earlier but that was vandalized and never replaced.
In the two photos shown below, taken in September of 2010, the end of a pipe is sticking out of the path surface at the intersection of Blackfriars bridge in downtown London. No paint markings exist to highlight its presence.
Many safety concerns remain on London’s Multi-use Path system that are not acknowledged or made known to the unsuspecting public. This is particularly concerning when the system is used by many vulnerable persons such as children, the elderly or persons who are inexperienced riders.
It can be a challenge to the City of London to address these problems and that has to be acknowledged. Yet the City, like all cities in Ontario, must balance the need to acknowledge problems with the advice of their risk management departments who insist that such acknowledgement will place them in a position of civil liability. Above all it is this threat of civil litigation that keeps many municipal safety problems from being publicly acknowledged and therefore an impetus to pay for corrections is lost. Many taxpayers, if they are aware of the dangers of leaving safety problems uncorrected, would gladly accept the additional taxes, rather than paying the large costs of risk management departments and their high cost-lawyers.
The City of London Ontario has put up some interesting “Zipper Merge” signs in the construction zone on Highbury Ave. The signs are supposed to encourage drivers to use a “zipper merge” technique that, so far, has been ignored by Ontario drivers.
Below is a frame taken from video during observations of traffic at the Highbury Ave site on September 3, 2020. The green “Zipper Merge” signs can be seen posted along the median of the highway but almost all drivers continue to use the right lane. When a vehicle tries to use the left lane, as shown in the frame below, vehicles, particularly large trucks, will pull out and block the left lane preventing “speeders” and “cheaters” from taking advantage of the left lane to pass the slow or stopped traffic.
The extent of exclusive usage of the right lane is obvious in the two additional frames shown below.
There are many problems that develop during this warfare, some that become dangerous. When the left lane is free of traffic the few vehicles that use that lane will travel at very high speeds because of the 100 km/h posted speed. This speed occurs just next to traffic that may be stopped in the right lane. At times drivers in the right lane decide to pull out of the right lane into the left lane, sometimes from a dead stop. This leads to very dangerous differences in speed that could lead to high speed crashes. This is just one of the problems that exists in construction zones that is not discussed.
Gorski Consulting has been monitoring the construction zone on Highbury Ave in London this past summer to gain some insight into some of the factors that lead to collisions in expressway construction zones. We hope to post additional articles on this issue on the Gorski Consulting website in the coming weeks.
Two cyclists reportedly collided in a bike trail near Lakeshore (east of Windsor), Ontario on September 1, 2020, resulting in life-threatening injuries to one of them. Examination of the site on Google Maps indicates that it contains a severe lack of visibility around sharp curves that are bordered by a tall fence. Neither police nor official news media have provided any explanation whether these path features were related to the cyclists’ impact. Yet the presence of these deficiencies cannot be ignored.
The following three images are taken from Google Maps and they show are area on the bike trail where the collision occurred.
The two views below provide a view looking west toward the bike path. It can be seen that the path contains sharp curves and a fence that is located immediately next to the edge of the path. This combination would make it difficult for cyclists to see each other as they approach from opposite directions. The specific location where the impact occurred was likely just beyond the views shown in the figures below. Investigating police have not made images of the specific location available to the public. The Windsor Star has provided some images apparently showing two bicycles on the path with police conducting examinations but we are not allowed to show these photos.
Issues important to identifying road road safety problems must be made known to the general public but often they are not. In the present instance the investigating police have not provided basic information about how this collision occurred or what factors may have been relevant. Official news media can fill in some of the blanks with on-site photos but it is apparent that they also will not allow their photos to be shown except through their own outlets.
In this context information about serious injuries and deaths becomes a commodity, being sold and traded like pork bellies on the stock market with little regard to the right of the public to be informed about dangers that could kill them.
Jeff Helperl is a fortunate, unfortunate driver who survived the collision shown above where a transport truck reportedly rear-ended a line of stopped vehicles in a construction zone on Highway 41 near Wakaw Saskatchewan on August 25, 2020. He sent the above photo, along with the photo below, through social media, reportedly claiming that he wants to know how a transport truck could have caused this collision. He reportedly saw the truck travelling toward him just before the collision. A valid outcry amongst some is that this is a case that demonstrates more and better heavy-truck driver training is needed.
As as road safety researcher and collision reconstruction consultant for the past 40 years I have turned to the internet for the past 10 years or so to provide some of my opinions drawn from my experience of investigating and reconstructing literally thousands of collisions. While I have conducted many investigations for hire by lawyers, insurance companies and private citizens, the advice that is given on the Gorski Consulting website is absolutely free and non-profit. Any website has to contain a degree of self-promotion but its has been my attempt, as much as possible, to give back to society as a whole, and to the very few, forgotten, unfortunate persons who have lost family members, friends or acquaintances to transportation tragedies. For drivers such as Jeff Helperl, or any others involved in this current tragedy, I would feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to provide some answers.
In the official investigations/reconstructions that I have examined, after I have reviewed all police documentation including witness statements, my examinations of the vehicles and collision sites, and various testing, it comes to light that opportunities were missed to identify and collect crucial evidence that would have made determinations of cause so much easier. But in the context of seeing the very small tidbits of information about such collisions coming from the internet, whether from police, official news media or social networks, the problem becomes much more evident. The lack of information is blindingly vivid.
Like any other driver, Mr. Helperl deserves to know what happened in his collision. This is not just a personal need but there is also the right of the public to know what factors could be leading to their potential, future death. We may not all take heart pills but it should be our right to know when someone has died from taking such a medication because, one day, we may be in that same circumstance. The reasoning is no different in motor vehicle collisions. It should be our communal right to be provided with a correct and accurate explanation.
In the absence of such information I have attempted to comment where I can. This is a difficult matter because, even with decades of experience, it is often impossible to overcome the effects that a lack of information creates. While I can provide suspicions based on previous experience that is often not good enough to provide the explanations that the public needs and ought to have.
At the same time the absence of essential information does not stop others from commenting and influencing the understanding of what has taken place. In fact, with the advent of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, “fake news” becomes all that much more dominant. We have now formed tribes of peoples who do not converse with other tribes; we only communicate with our closed group of “friends” who share our own viewpoints. Rarely does it occur to us that our understandings could be biased because we do not allow opposing views to pass our mental filters. The conclusions about collision causes expressed by our friends simply consolidate the strong viewpoints we have already developed from evidence we do not have. There is a general lack of understanding that many are drawing conclusions from very sparse information yet we do not stop to consider that reality.
The unfortunate Humboldt Broncos, multi-fatality, bus collision of April, 2018 in Saskatchewan is a prominent example of the problem. Even though numerous news articles and television news programs have reached almost every Canadian, no one has questioned why crucial evidence has been kept from public knowledge. The official RCMP investigation report has never been made public. Yet the information gathered by the RCMP is unique. No one was in a position to identify and document the collision evidence. Some information provided by the RCMP during the truck driver’s trial showed that crucial errors appeared to exist in the analysis, such as the fact that the bus driver would appear to have started braking before he could see the truck, an action that should not have made any sense. The cause of the deaths of the hockey players in the bus was also never revealed or discussed. The roof of the bus was shown lying next to the bus yet there was no official comment or explanation why, an apparent undamaged roof, could simply be lying detached from the bus body. While my first belief was that the roof had been cut away by emergency personnel others have informed me that this is not so. Simple matters like these could be clarified through the viewing of the official RCMP investigation matters. But it appears that will never happen.
How could Mr. Helperl expect to understand what happened in his collision when such massive tragedies such as the Humboldt Broncos collision have provided such poor explanations? Mr. Helperl is likely the last person, along with any and all members of the public with no official standing, to know what factors led to his crash. The only saving grace is that he was able to post the two photos of the crash shown above, on his own, and thus allow independent persons such as myself to consider some basic possibilities. Even now I am conducting observational studies of traffic at a construction site in London, Ontario (Highbury Ave at Commissioners Road) to understand how rear-end impacts develop. A couple of articles about this work have already been posted on this Gorski Consulting website. Such work is not sponsored by anyone except myself. It does not go to any personal profit but only to improve my understanding of the underlying issues which I hope to discuss in the future. While deadly rear-end impacts keep recurring the uninformed public does what would be expected, it works with what information is available (which is essentially nothing) and draws conclusions. I would not expect anything else. An important issue such as someone’s death attracts the attention of many who seek explanations. But what we need is something better. We need education from objective evidence and explanations from independent experts who are not paid to provide the public with a fairy tale.
Objective evidence is a huge equalizer to achieving justice, not just in assessment of motor vehicle collisions but in far wider circles.
Can we imagine what the situation would have been like if there was no one to videotape the murder of George Floyd? Or even the less consequential, even though disgusting, treatment of the Toronto Raptors basketball team President Masai Ujiri last year after his celebrations were corrupted by a bullying security officer? It was the ability to provide an objective account of these events via videotape that allowed everyone the opportunity see what actually transpired, rather than what someone would be willing to convince us of what transpired. We spend many years of life molding the filters of bias upon our personal mirror such that it reflects only what we wish to see. And in many of us there is no blindness greater than of those who refuse to see.
Unfortunately, these events have also taken place in the realm of motor vehicle collision analysis and judgment. Police and courts that have accepted the subjective evidence of witnesses who have claimed to see things without objective verification. The danger of such actions has been known and warnings have existed for decades, yet there has been no change. We are now, possibly, at a crossroad where the calls for change may require that objective evidence, such as that provided by videotape, be brought into the assessment.
Similarly, the data from event data recorders (“black boxes”) has been available to the select few since the year 2000. Yet the average driver, or vehicle owner, has had no chance of obtaining that data in their own defence – it is merely used by those who have deep pockets and who can afford the costs of the hardware and consulting fees to obtain the data. Government agencies, research institutes, insurers and police have had the opportunity to use that data but not the average citizen.
There are many persons today that are walking, or lying, in the shoes of George Floyd and Masai Ujiri. And not necessarily because their skin is black but because they are victimized. They are victimized because it is our choice to remain silent. They are victimized because they do not have the resources to defend themselves. If we are truly objective we will recognize that victimization knows no bounds in colour of skin, race, sexual orientation and so many other divisions of life. In that regard individual members of the police can also be just as victimized. But it is the police culture toward the black community that must change. It is many other cultures that also must change.
In our view the only one of the two who can speak right now, Ujiri, has provided a profound statement that we are compelled to repeat below:
“The video sadly demonstrates how horribly I was treated by a law enforcement officer last year in the midst of my team, the Toronto Raptors, winning its first world championship. It was an exhilarating moment of achievement for our organization, for our players, for our city, for our country, and for me personally, given my long-tenured professional journey in the NBA. Yet, unfortunately, I was reminded in that moment that despite all of my hard work and success, there are some people, including those who are supposed to protect us, who will always and only see me as something that is unworthy of respectful engagement. And, there’s only one indisputable reason why that is the case – because I am Black.
What saddens me most about this ordeal is that the only reason why I am getting the justice I deserve in this moment is because of my success. Because I’m the President of a NBA team, I had access to resources that ensured I could demand and fight for my justice. So many of my brothers and sisters haven’t had, don’t have, and won’t have the same access to resources that assured my justice. And that’s why Black Lives Matter.
And that’s why it’s important for all of us to keep demanding justice. Justice for George. Justice for Breonna. Justice for Elijah. Justice for far too many Black lives that mattered. And justice for Black people around the world, who need our voice and our compassion to save their lives.
Those are the ties that bind us.”
While the title of this article sounds completely wrong it is an important lesson to understand why it is mostly right.
It is never convenient to discuss the results of real-life motor vehicle tragedies because they always involve real people. Yet a failure to educate ourselves from these results often leads to future tragedies that could otherwise be prevented.
The lesson in the present article is an attempt to clarify a common misunderstanding that the travel speed of a vehicle is what causes injury. In other words, if you are travelling faster you will sustain a higher severity of injury. This fallacy has been growing deeper roots in some recent research and has been picked up by news media resulting in unreasonable demands for policy change that hinders true improvements in road safety.
The above photo shows a recent tragic scenario where an SUV carrying 3 occupants crashed into a tree on Webb Road in Durham, Ontario resulting in one fatality. The photo of the vehicle at its final rest position shows that its driver’s door was pressed against the large tree and there was massive crush into the driver’s seating area. Most persons looking at the photo would conclude that the SUV must have been travelling at a tremendous speed in order to cause the resulting damage. In reality these views of the vehicle cannot be used to draw that conclusion.
Let us examine a typical scenario where an SUV is travelling on a typical Ontario highway with a posted maximum speed of 80 km/h. Let us say that we know its speed was 100 km/h. As it passes through a curve the driver loses directional control of the vehicle and it begins to rotate while the driver steers left and right to regain control. This action may take place over a distance of 100 metres. While this “yawing” motion is taking place the vehicle is losing speed, often at a rate between 0.2 and 0.4 g. Taking an average of 0.3 g in that distance of 100 metres the vehicle would lose a speed of about 87 km/h. The vehicle then strikes a tree with its driver’s door and the vehicle comes to rest against the tree. The relatively low speed of impact results in relatively minor damage but because the tree is pressed against the driver’s window, and because the driver’s body moves toward the point of the application of the force, the driver’s head strikes the tree and the driver dies. Looking at the minor damage to the vehicle many would scratch their heads and say “there must be something wrong here. A driver should not die from such a low speed impact”.
We then look at a second example, the same SUV is driving the same road at 100 km/h in wintertime and the same loss-of-control takes place due to an icy road surface. Because of the ice the vehicle might slow down at a rate of only 0.05g over the 100-metre distance. Calculating the speed loss we obtain about 36 km/h and the vehicle is still travelling at about 64 km/h when it strikes the tree. But due to the luck of chance the impact occurs just behind the driver’s door and the massive intrusion to the structure is located behind where the driver is seated. The driver survives and everyone wonders: “Wow, how could this person survive such a high speed impact?”.
What can we learn from these results?
In both instances the SUV was travelling at the same speed. But in the first instance the vehicle lost a substantial amount of that speed due to its sliding on a surface that was able to dissipate (remove) its kinetic energy. Thus the initial speed of the vehicle was not relevant. What was relevant was the speed when it struck the tree. Not only was the impact speed an issue, but also the location of the application of the force: directly at where the driver was seated.
In the second impact the SUV’s speed was not reduced appreciably before the tree impact and the impact speed was much higher. But because the impact was behind the seated position of the driver the crush or structural intrusion was not applied into where the driver was seated. The collision appears to be very severe but the driver survives.
This illustrates the fallacy of using initial speed of a vehicle in discussing the danger of sustaining significant injury. The initial speed in not the important factor, it is the impact speed that is important. Furthermore it is the change-in-speed that is important. As we dig deeper we then begin to add the fact that it is how quickly that change-in-speed occurs that is the critical factor. And we then add that it is also the direction of force, the existence of pre-impact rotation, and so on, that need to be taken into consideration.
Now, before ending this discussion we need to clarify some additional points. When we talk about injury causation we do not discuss change-in-speed. Instead we use the term “change-in-velocity”. Speed is a scalar term that does not give an indication of the direction of that speed. Velocity is a vector and is a more complete term because it has the associated direction applied to its definition. So a speed may be “100 km/h”, while a velocity would be “100 km/h in a north-west direction”. The directional component is an important matter that cannot be ignored.
We then need to add that it is not the change-in-velocity that is relevant but how quickly that change-in-velocity occurs. So this is where we introduce acceleration. Acceleration is the rate-of-change in velocity.
And further still be might add that the change-in-velocity or acceleration experienced by the body of the vehicle is not the same as the change-in-velocity or acceleration experienced by the occupant inside the vehicle.
These are just some of the basic and simple issues that need to be understood when discussing injury potential and the travel speed of a vehicle. We need to understand that we cannot equate travel speed with injury causation. There is no direct relationship between these terms. The title of this article is somewhat misleading because, indeed, if you are travelling 100 km/h you possess the potential ingredient for causing serious injury and death. But it is not true that you will sustain serious injury or fatal injuries just because of that travel speed. The issue is more complicated than that.
Another issue that has been prominent in recent fatal collisions is the issue of initial speed, structural separation and injury causation. This point is highlighted by two attention-grabbing collisions that occurred, one Edmonton Alberta, and one in Toronto Ontario the past couple of months.
In an article that was posted to this website on July 5, 2020 we attempted to explain that three occupants of an Audi were killed after impacting a Starbucks retail outlet, not because of the vehicle’s speed, but because of the disintegration of the vehicle’s structure. Again, this was meant to highlight the important issue that we need to look at the severity of the impact in terms of the change-in-velocity experienced by the vehicle. When there is a lack of evidence showing that a large amount of kinetic energy was dissipated we need to ask more questions about why a fatality occurs.
This concern was repeated once again in another Audi impact that occurred in Toronto, Ontario. The driver of an Audi lost directional control of the vehicle and it rotated into the path of a Jeep SUV. It appeared to all involved that the speed of the Audi, as its driver lost directional control of the vehicle, was all that mattered. The fact that the Audi separated into two pieces seemed acceptable because the Audi was travelling at a high speed. The views below show some of the damage evidence from the Toronto crash.
While the last views of the Audi appear to show an unsurvivable amount of destruction, the driver reportedly survived as well as one of the three occupants. So how severe was this impact? Vehicle occupants die because they are involved in collisions where a vehicle sustains a high change-in-velocity. Did this Audi sustain a high change-in-velocity. If so, why did two of the three occupants survive?
Many vehicles contain weak points in their structure. When a vehicle is struck in the side, in the manner suggested in these photos, structural separations occur. Not just today, or yesterday, or last year, or 10 years ago. Vehicles have been separating like this since they began to be manufactured as unibodies.
We do not have the privilege of examining the details of this crash. Only the investigating police have that opportunity. This leaves us at a disadvantage as we can only use the photos of the damage and the vehicle rest positions to support our comments. However collisions of this type often happen in a recurring manner. When a vehicle rotates out-of-control, it travels into the opposing lane while continuing that rotation. The manner of contact to the vehicle’s side is not the same as the scenario encountered in an intersection collision. Nor is it in the manner in which vehicle crashworthiness is tested in government crash tests. It is likely that the pre-impact rotation of the loss-of-control vehicle is part of that difference. It has also been observed that the direction of the impact force contains a component that involves “sliding” or sideswiping across the struck surface. The combination of these factors leads to a loading of the side structure in a manner that causes the separations observed in the Edmonton and Toronto collisions. This weakness in the vehicle structures causes massive destruction that, to the average onlooker, appears to be consistent with a high speed of a vehicle and the crashworthiness of the structure is never questioned.
To summarize, it is an attention-grabbing comment to suggest that speed is not relevant to injury causation. In one way the comment is in error because it is the speed which provides the potential for injury causation. But we must be careful to understand that speed alone is not the critical factor. It is what happens to a vehicle’s motion during an impact that matters in injury causation. And it is what happens to the body of the vehicle occupant which makes contact with the vehicle interior that matters in injury causation. These issues may be completely irrelevant to the ground speed of the vehicle.
On Friday, August 14, 2020 the OPP Twitter account informed the public of the closure of Hwy 401 west of Kingston, Ontario due to a collision involving a tanker truck which had spilt liquid tar into a creek. Photos were attached with the notification, the one shown above, and two others shown below.
Regardless of the original circumstances which led to the tanker truck’s travel toward the roadside, there is evidence in the above photos to demonstrate that the manner of interaction between the tanker truck and roadside guardrail was inadequate.
Depending on varying circumstances the super-highway which is Highway 401 carries large volumes of heavy trucks. Often truck volume may exceed the volume of all other traffic. At the same time Highway 401 is at the peak of the level of service of all highways in Ontario. It is given the highest level of maintenance and design. When more than half of the vehicles on this highway are heavy trucks then there should be a focus on creating a highway environment that protects the safety of truckers and their trucks. It is not a sudden revelation that various roadside barriers are installed to reduce the severity of collisions and therefore they should reduce the severity of heavy truck collisions. Heavy trucks have driven on Highway 401 for decades and roadside barriers have existed for decades. What is missing is the acknowledgment that a large number of barriers along Highway 401 are inadequate in their ability to reduce the severity of heavy truck collisions.
With respect to the collision shown in the photos above, it is clear that the tanker truck passed through or over a guardrail before it entered the creek spilling its cargo. Although police reported that the truck driver did not sustain any injury this was likely more due to luck rather than the result of designed safety systems. The collision resulted in a costly cleanup but it could have been worse if the cargo was of a more noxious or explosive base.
When we look at the photos we note that the guardrail impact was close to a bridge abutment. A guardrail is generally strengthened at its junction with a bridge abutment primarily so that a striking vehicle can be deflected from impacting the very stiff and immovable concrete abutment. When looking at the first photo it shows that the end of the guardrail is still attached to the concrete abutment and that is a desirable outcome. Yet we still see evidence of contact to the concrete. We also see that the wooden anchorage posts of the guardrail are at various angles but they are generally in line and do not appear to be broken away. This indicates that, at this location, the tanker truck did not drive through the guardrail but rode over top of it. The first photo is shown again below.
If we look in the background of the photo above we can see that the rear wheels on the tanker trailer are mutilated. These are the left (driver’s) side wheels. A close-up of that area is shown in the view below.
The severity and location of such damage is not consistent with the impact of the rail but is more consistent with the impact of the concrete bridge abutment shown in the foreground. Thus we gain insight into how the truck and trailer passed over top of rail and made a glancing contact with the bridge abutment. This interaction is not by design, it is by chaos.
We would like to see the condition of the portion of the guardrail on approach to the bridge abutment but police did not a provide a good view of that area. A close-up from of the first photo is shown below but it provides little assistance. It is possible that a length of rail can be seen lying on the grass slope but it is difficult to say.
Additional information can be obtained from examining the site with Google Maps. The photo below shows a general view of Highway 401 from Odessa to Kingston. The town of Odessa is located just to the left of the centre of the photo and it shows that Highway 401 is straight for a substantial distance until the collision site where the Highway contains a significant curve.
A closer view of the substantial curve is shown below. The orange circle indicates the location of the collision site.
And a further close-up view of the site is shown below, again with the orange circle indicating the location of the collision site.
The Google Maps view below is looking east on Highway 401 and approaching the collision site. The extent of the sharp curve can be appreciated.
And again, the view below shows the collision site looking eastward, upon approach to the bridge over the small creek. Here we can see the portion of the guardrail that was struck by the tanker truck. The crucial information needed to confirm the adequacy of the rail is its height. But that is unknown.
In many instances the anchorage posts of a railing are wooden and they become rotted through age. Although it is difficult to see, the anchorage posts of the rail shown in the above photo appear to be of a metallic/aluminum material and not wooden. Thus an explanation for the truck’s passage through or over the rail cannot be provided without actually being at the site and being able to examine the damaged system.
The pre-crash status of the guardrail and its connection with the concrete bridge abutment is shown in the photo below. In some instances there is an improper joining of the rail to the abutment.
A closer view of that junction is shown below. At face value there does not appear to be an improper connection of the systems. Yet there appears to be piece of the concrete abutment missing at its upper corner. This would suggest that there was a previous impact to the abutment. That outcome should be of concern. But again, without the ability to conduct a further investigation nothing further can be accomplished in this review.
It should be part of the police reconstruction activities to assess such roadside structures especially when it is clear that a structure has allowed a vehicle to pass through, or over top of it. Such results are life-threatening. No less life-threatening than if those police had detected an impaired driver or a defective vehicle. Regrettably that documentation of roadside systems is not happening.
The drivers of heavy trucks and buses are at increased danger because roadside structures are not designed to interact with these taller and heavier vehicles. More importantly, intercity coaches may carry dozens of passengers and the threat of multiple fatalities should make it even more important to protect their safety. At present there is no official acknowledgment of the special dangers that exist to the occupants of any heavy vehicle on a high speed expressway. Collisions like the present one are simply ignored without appreciation that, sooner or later, those lucky outcomes will end.
There may be legitimate reasons why police are not forthcoming with further information on the fatal “explosion” that killed a man in a car in front of the Kitchener-Waterloo courthouse on Friday, August 14th, 2020. In an article posted to the Gorski Consulting website on August 15th we questioned the reports that the resulting damage to the vehicle was as a result of a bombing, as per an IED. We noted that the physical evidence did not match what was being reported.
Now various official news agencies are reporting that police have changed their reports and are now indicating that the damage was caused by a fire but that it was deliberately set by the deceased.
This is the unfortunate circumstance that there is no independent investigative agency that can inform the public on this matter outside of what police say. Changes have occurred in the news media such that news organizations are centralized and a vast number of small independent agencies no longer exist. At the same time those few news agencies that exist have limited field personnel whose historical job has been to investigate and report, via news articles, to the public. In many instances news media simply report, word-for-word, from police press releases without conducting further inquiries as to the accuracy of those releases. Thus with respect to the present case, there is no information on the identity of the deceased, why his/her actions led to his/her death, or if indeed the person died via other means than what has been reported. The democratic checks and balances that allow information to come from various sources and prevent the manipulation of reported information is being challenged. Social media cannot replace proper, professional, investigative journalism.