The location and severity of crush on this OPP SUV that was reported to be stopped and unoccupied is unusual as the occupants of the striking vehicle were reportedly uninjured.

Unusual things happen, but explanations would help. How does an unoccupied OPP SUV sustain major frontal damage with no injury to the occupants of the opposing vehicle?

Firstly, the front ends of OPP SUVs are very stiff. Something like a Ford Explorer that may be four-wheel-drive is difficult to crush when encountering a typical passenger car. But we add that pusher bar to the SUV’s front end and that should increase its stiffness. So we look at the photo above (which was uploaded by the OPP on their Twitter account) and we should ask: “What happened to the other vehicle?” The OPP provided no explanation about how this collision occurred.

Let us consider the most typical scenario. The OPP SUV is stopped along the roadside of Bruce Road 23 which runs north-south close to the shore of Lake Huron. At this time of year the snowfall should be considerable and we might often see this highway closed due to poor weather conditions. Normally OPP vehicles should be stopped on the right side of the road but if there is major snowfall and large snow banks the roadway could be narrowed. So the stopped position could be further onto the roadway than usual. Assuming a typical situation where snowfall may have accumulated on the highway surface the road could be slippery. The combined scenario of a narrowed road, a police cruiser that is stopped further onto the roadway than normal and a slippery road surface could provide some explanation for why a passing vehicle might collide with the cruiser. But we don’t know. All this is speculation. A meteorite might have fallen from the sky. But some explanation from the OPP would help.

We can see that the crush to the front of the OPP SUV is not minimal. Granted there is little or no crush at the bumper level and this is the stiffest portion of any light vehicle. And the softer upper portion at the grill and hood edge is where most of the crush is located. But still, this is not “minimal” crush. If the front end of a typical passenger car or light truck struck the OPP SUV you would typically see a difference in the magnitude of crush on the right versus the left corner. This is so because it is extremely rare that frontal impacts would occur “license-plate-to-license-plate”. There is some indication that the crush is greater at the right front corner than the left but that is still not typical of a front-end to front-end impact.

The visible damage pattern is more like what one would see if a vehicle went out of control and slid sideways into the front end of the cruiser. But if that happened you would see major crush to the side of the vehicle and this would be a life-threatening situation. So is that what happened and a miraculous saving of the opposing driver occurred? Possibly but not likely? It remains a curious situation.

A vast majority of impacts to stopped emergency vehicles is from the rear. This is particularly dangerous on high-speed expressways that may also have a higher number of large and heavy vehicles. Even police are sometimes not fully aware of the dangers they are in whenever they come to a traffic stop. Some things can be done to improve the chance of survival by using an emergency vehicle as a “blocking truck” until further assistance arrives to provide formal protection. But in the end it is a dangerous situation.

There is a legitimate concern why a “Move Over” law was placed in Ontario’s law books. Given the dangers that emergency personnel face, something had to be done even when, in some instances, drivers approaching stopped emergency vehicles are of minimal fault for some collisions. It is important to understand that the lives of emergency personnel are at stake. Emergency personnel who deserve to come home at night.

Ultimately, what is truly necessary is a detailed and independent study of collisions with stopped emergency vehicles. A study that is unbiased and willing to suggest large changes in how and where such stops are conducted. On major expressways some form of formal stopping location may need to be developed on all expressways. But that would only improve on a small number of incidents. The solution would not be simple and it may require a number of small solutions.

The future may be bright when vehicles begin to communicate with themselves and the roadway itself. It may be possible to control all traffic around the vicinity of stopped emergency vehicles and that would be a huge improvement. But such communications are still a long way in the future.

In the meantime drivers need to consider that the lives of emergency personnel are valuable to us all. While imperfect the Move Over Law is correct. When you see, or suspect, that emergency vehicles may be stopped on the road, slow down and attempt to provide lateral distance between your vehicle and those stopped vehicles. And be alert to the possibility that pedestrians traffic may be present. But do not panic. Sudden hard braking or lane changes without thinking will make matters worse. Drive predictably so that other drivers understand your intentions.