The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) announced on their Twitter feed that a fatal tractor-trailer collision occurred in the early hours of November 21, 2023 in the westbound lanes of Highway 401 between Highway 59 and Sweaburg Road at Woodstock, Ontario. They subsequently posted a photo of the crash site which is reproduced above.
OPP in its Central District frequently attach 3 or 4 photos of an accident site and this provides some idea of what might have transpired. Yet in other districts such as the Western District, very few photos are ever posted. Thus the single photo provided in the present case is, at least, an improvement. Yet the content of the photo shows how much information the OPP fail to disclose.
As shown in the above photo a tractor-trailer has travelled into the north ditch of the highway. One can clearly see that a long length of damaged guardrail is attached to the base of the trailer. This would suggest that the truck plowed through the guardrail as it travelled to its final rest position. As noted many times before on this Gorski Consulting website, the simple impact of a guardrail should not cause fatal injuries to the occupant of a vehicle involved in the crash. And this is particularly true when a very massive tractor-trailer is involved. So what happened? Police have provided no explanation. And a single photo is clearly insufficient to provide a proper explanation.
When police close a highway to investigate a fatal collision they are the only ones who can know what happened and what factors led to the death of the victim. Withholding information from the public about that death can contribute to future deaths by keeping the public ignorant of important dangers. As an analogy, if a Coroner investigates the poisoning death of a victim, would it be appropriate to keep the public from knowing the danger of the poison that killed the victim?
Even the single photo above demonstrates that there are some concerns. The left side of the tractor-trailer is resting next to the end of a large concrete catch basin. Such concrete structures exist all along the sides of the highway and help provide drainage or the passing of small streams beneath the highway. It is very important to make sure that vehicles do not strike these stiff and immovable objects.
The police provided only a single photo and that photo provides a poor view of the cab area of the truck. Yet from this distant view it appears that there is substantial damage to that cab. This damage is unlikely to have come from contacting the guardrail because the cab area is so high above the level of the rail. And, because the truck remained upright, it could not have come from striking the ground. It is possible that the truck struck something else that is not shown behind the photo but that appears less likely. The most logical conclusion is that, having plowed through the guardrail the road tractor struck the end of the concrete catch basin and this is what killed the driver. But why did the OPP not provide that explanation? Or more simply, why did the OPP not provide an additional photo or two so that someone could derive a better interpretation of the evidence?
It is a common problem that Highway 401 does not contain the types of roadside structures that can properly contain large vehicles such as trucks and buses. Yet, on any given day about half of the traffic volume is made of of large trucks an buses. This means that half of the driving public is not properly protected when vehicle exits the road surface at highway speed. This is an important fact. It may be costly to increase the protections of the roadsides of Highway 401 but it is a debate that needs to be had by the public. The debate cannot be had if the public is kept in the dark about these dangers.
Just as important, many truck drivers are also kept in the dark about the dangers that exist to them on this highway. This is all because police, politicians, news media and others are failing in their duties to inform and protect the public.
UPDATE: November 22, 2023, 0700 Hours
News media are now reporting that the truck was engulfed in flames upon arrival by emergency personnel. Nothing was mentioned about the fire in earlier reports. This type of delay or lack of notification is common whenever a vehicle fire is involved. It is also common that no mention will be made whether the fire was related to the driver’s death or what caused the driver’s death. In a scenario where a truck rides over a guardrail the chaos can create potentials for vehicle fires where the metal of the rail can puncture vulnerable areas of the truck and/or can set off sparks that lead to a fire. None of this can be properly assessed without better evidence such as more photos around the accident site.