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.