It seems logical that, when a technology fails resulting in the crash of an airliner, there should be a public revelation of that fact. Three or five hundred deaths in one incident makes us aware of that importance. But what happens when a technology fails over a number of incidents, such as in motor vehicle collisions, and a similar three to five hundred deaths occur? Does this lessen in importance because the deaths were spread out over a long time and over many incidents? That is an important question.
A few years ago General Motors failed to warn drivers of an ignition failure that resulted (officially) in hundreds of deaths. The public will never know the final tally of destruction. But at least the secret defect was detected and made public even though, for many years, fatal collisions were happening and official investigations were never able to connect the dots.
The public cannot be expected to have the know how or opportunity to document and interpret collision evidence. Our society depends on specialized agencies to perform that work. And when evidence of a failure in a technology is suspected those agencies must make those failures known to the public. No different than the responsibility of airline crash investigators.
There are numerous instances in everyday life where questions arise in collision results. Questions are not raised in the public domain often because there is a lack of recognition that there could be a problem.
As an example, on the evening of Saturday, January 9, 2021, a single vehicle fatal collision occurred on Erin Centre Boulevard in Mississauga, Ontario. Essentially nothing was immediately revealed about the circumstances of the crash. Police placed a tarp covering the full vehicle. The only information made known in the official news media is that one person died and another was injured. It was later revealed that the vehicle had struck a pole and CBC news eventually showed a photo of the damaged vehicle after the tarp had been removed. We are not able to show such a photo due to copyright laws. But why was basic information such as the travel direction (which should have been obvious), or the fact that a pole was struck (which should have been obvious) not revealed? In some instances this is due to timing constraints. But in too many instances fatal collisions occur without even a photo being provided.
In the present collision there was clearly considerable crush to the side of the vehicle indicating that the impact was severe. In many instances severe impacts like these are accompanied by high, initial speeds. And uninformed comments are made that speed must have been a factor. But it is never pointed out that there is no actual basis for that conclusion by simply noting that the collision was severe. As we have pointed out numerous times, the crush shown in the vehicle could indicate, for example, a speed of 80 km/h and that is all. But the vehicle could have been travelling at either 90 or 200 km/h, or more, and we would not know without examining the additional speed losses that occur before and after an impact. This is a mental trap that is left for the public to fall into because no one wishes to provide this simple explanation.
Furthermore, the occurrence of a severe, side impact into any tree, pole or physical object must also come into question. Since the year 2011 Canada has mandated that all new vehicles be equipped with electronic stability control (ESC). This technology is designed to bring “stability” to a vehicle by electronically manipulating the tire force on individual wheels such that the pointing direction of the vehicle lines up with the travel direction of a vehicle. This “stability” is somewhat of a misnomer in that a vehicle may still be involved in a single-single, loss-of-control collision but at least the vehicle will be pointing toward the thing that it eventually strikes rather than striking the object with its side. There are obvious advantages to causing an impact with the front versus the side.
And there are further advantages in that ESC may actually prevent the rotation (yaw) that used to precede almost all loss-of-control collisions. So historically, when we used to see a vehicle that struck a pole we simply accepted it as a normal course of events. But that is no longer true. With the existence of ESC we now must ask why a vehicle was involved in a severe side impact with a pole when ESC is supposed to prevent the pre-crash rotation (yaw). But we do not ask that important question.
With each year motor vehicles are becoming mobile computers with vast electronic hardware. Storage of collision data is increasingly prevalent. While this collision data is available to certain entities such as police and insurance agencies, never is that information available to the public and often not even to the persons involved in a serious collision. When the news media parrot the police news releases that “police are continuing their investigation”, it is extremely rare that the results of a finalized investigation are ever made public. Event data from a crash provide very specific and precise evidence that, with the involvement of a properly trained analyst, can provide a much better explanation of how and why a collision occurred than the initial comments provided immediately after a collision. But that information is never publicly revealed.
With respect to the present crash, several local news agencies in the Toronto area reported on the single vehicle fatal collision. None of these agencies reported on the questionable circumstance that a severe, side impact is difficult to explain without the existence of some external force. How could we expect the public to understand that a safety technology might have failed when neither the investigating police, news media, nor anyone else brings that possibility to the public’s attention? This type of failure to question collision consequences goes on continually. It is why instances such as the GM ignition switch defect are able to continue killing vehicle occupants for many years without detection.