Social media outrage has clogged the internet upon the release of a short video showing a sanding truck pushing a car into a guardrail on Highway 401. Police reported they were not aware of the incident but since then they confirm that it occurred on January 13, 2020 near Bayview Ave in Toronto. Certainly police are correct in announcing that they need to obtain further information before considering what actually happened.
But isn’t it obvious what happened? Clearly the public sees 12 seconds of this monstrously large truck pushing the car as it is sideways at the truck’s front end. We already know exactly what happened. Or do we?
There are many reasons why short segments of video can be deceiving. Not much different from short segments of an event that is seen by an Incredible Eyewitness (read the writings of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus). At Gorski Consulting we often say that “Visibility is in the mind of the Beholder”.
Reports circulating in the media indicate that the driver of the salting truck was “unaware” of the car. Those wanting to lynch the driver cannot understand how the driver could not be aware of the car since the driver’s truck was pushing the car throughout the 12 seconds of video. What nonsense comes the cry, surely anyone should be able to detect that they are impacting another vehicle for at least 12 seconds. But let us examine this problem more technically.
The demonstration shown in the frame below was arranged by Gorski Consulting with respect to one of our older client files wherein a truck and car collision caused in the death of the car driver. The car and truck had been side-by-side at one point during the commencement of the incident. One can see that a black car has been placed next to the right front wheel of the truck in a manner where it was alleged that a minor contact occurred which sent the car into a counter-clockwise rotation, much like the video of the sanding truck.
In the next frame below we can see that the car is relatively close to the right front wheel of the truck.
In the next frame below we show the truck driver’s view toward the right front of his cab and toward the right side mirrors. This view is taken when the truck driver is seated in his seat and the black car is positioned in the same location as shown in the previous frames. It should be obvious that the car cannot be seen by the truck driver.
In the frame below, the photographer has stood up at the right front seat of the truck cab and the photo is taken looking down to the location of the black car which is still in the same position as it was in the previous frames. Now, a partial view of the car can be seen. But truck drivers do not drive while standing up in front of the right front seat of their cab.
This analysis was also conducted by placing the black car in front of the truck in the manner shown in the frame below. Again the car was not visible to the truck driver.
Other observations can be made from the frame shown below where two investigators are standing several metres in front of the subject truck. The visibility of those two pedestrians from the truck driver’s seat can be seen in the following frame.
As shown in the frame below, most of the pedestrians’ bodies are not visible. A typical male, standing about 5 feet 10 inches, or about 178 centimetres, is taller than a typical passenger car which is usually less than 150 centimetres tall. The bottom line is that a car positioned in the location of these pedestrians would not be seen by a truck driver seated in his seat.
In the actual investigation there was a claim by a witness that she saw the impact between the car left side of the car and the right front of the truck tractor. This scenario was reconstructed by placing a similar car at a similar distance behind the truck as shown below.
Inside the witness vehicle a camera was placed at the witness driver’s head similar to the video camera position shown in the frame below.
The witness view could then be recreated as shown in the “zoomed in” view shown below.
The witness could not see whether an impact occurred and she later admitted so just before she was supposed to testify at trial.
Never-the-less the truck driver received a guilty verdict and was sentenced to 4 years in jail for failing to remain at the scene of the collision. This occurred because there had been a second collision between the truck and the car after the car had rotated in front the truck and substantial damage occurred to the left side of the car from that second collision. Although the existence of the first impact was disputed due to lack of physical evidence, the existence of the second collision was beyond doubt as it was supported by the physical evidence. There was a great misunderstanding by the court that the truck driver must have been capable of detecting that second impact as there was substantial damage to the left side of the car and the truck driver must have been able to see the car sliding sideways because the car was directly in front of the truck. It became impossible to explain to the court that the severity of a substantial impact to a car might only be registered an a 1g deceleration to a very massive truck. With heavy braking and hard steering to avoid the sliding car, including the typical vibrations that exist in a truck cab, there could be substantial doubt in the mind of the truck driver that a collision had occurred if he was incapable of seeing the car in the last seconds before impact. Additional, explainable complications occurred which caused the truck driver to leave the collision site much like the driver of the sanding truck shown in the video.
This demonstration shows a typical problem with witness information. While many independent witnesses want to be helpful, and many are, too many times their information is unreliable and sometimes completely fabricated. When a death is involved there is an urgency to want to find someone at fault who can pay for the result, not necessarily to pay for the actions that they performed.
In the scenario of the video showing the sanding truck and the car it has been reported that there were no injuries and that both vehicles left the collision site without reporting it to police. But what if the car driver died? Would the driver of the sanding truck be charged with leaving the scene of a crime? Should he then receive a four year jail sentence?
There is a rush to judgment by many who, through their personal biases, want to see a result, such as punishment for some perceived wrongdoing, without wanting to consider alternative possibilities. We would want to feel assured that such prejudice exists in only the rare few. Regrettably that is not the case. Many persons in official positions who ought to know better and upon whom we rely to achieve a just result fail to keep their prejudices in check.
An elderly defense lawyer once told us that he disagreed with capital punishment, even though some persons deserved it. He disagreed with it because in far too many instances our justice system is incapable of differentiating between the truly guilty and the truly innocent. It is a painful result when a guilty person does not pay for their crime but it is even more painful when an innocent person’s life is destroyed because we did not conduct a fair trial of their actions, not the consequences that occurred.