Watching helplessly as a trapped vehicle occupant is burned alive can be the most difficult image to live with in anyone’s life. That is one of the reasons, beyond being the victim,  why such occurrences must be minimized. (The above photo was taken by the City of London Fire Department).

We express sincere regrets when vehicle fires kill, but then we seem unable to acknowledge that regrets will not prevent the next incidence. Prevention must be preceded by objective analysis, such as documentation of the incidents and how and why they came to be. This is where we fail.

A glance through Ontario’s Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR) shows how, every year, the Province boasts: “For more than 20 years, our province has ranked in the top five for road safety among all North American jurisdictions” (ORSAR, 2017). But what about vehicle fires? Are they counted?

The only mention of vehicle fires comes from a table of “Motor Vehicles Involved in Collisions Based on Initial Impact”. There is no other reference anywhere else in the Report.

The figure below shows the number of reports of vehicles fires or explosions in the ORSAR from 2006 through to the latest available report in 2017.

The numbers in the above table demonstrate the reason for the boasting about safety. If we add up the totals of fires for each year there is a downward trend from 206 incidents in 2006 to just 101 in 2017. A remarkable reduction. For an unexplained reason the number of Property Damage incidents took a dramatic downturn commencing in the year 2015. And the fact that there were no incidents involving fatalities from 2006 through to 2016 in also remarkable.

But there is this one, single blemish. In 2017 there were 7 incidents of death.

Strange. Why were there no deaths through all those years and then suddenly there were 7 in 2017? One might examine the injury incidents along with the fatal incidents and arrive at the conclusion that every year the combined total of injury plus fatal incidents ranged between 2 and 9 incidents. Very small numbers. Nothing to be concerned about. Yet, there is a contradiction.

Official news media and  certain police twitter accounts give notice when significant collisions occur. Those postings were examined between the years 2012 and 2020 resulting in the table shown below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above table is not complete because it is not possible to keep track of the reports of all collisions from all news media outlets in Ontario and its many regions without dedicating a substantial number of man-hours. In many of the news media reports the occurrence of a fire is often not reported and so the occurrence is difficult to detect. And in other instances there is very little information reported, even in instances of major, fatal collisions. So the above numbers are most likely under-estimates of reality. Even though these data under-estimate the extent of the vehicle fires, there is a contradiction with Ontario’s official data.

The perplexing contradiction is that, in the ORSAR there were no reports of fatalities through the years 2012 through 2016, yet the news media reported that a total of 39 fatal collisions occurred where a vehicle fire was involved. The news media reports clearly showed photos of the vehicles involved and the existence of fires was unquestionable. Some of these reports were by police departments such as the OPP and municipal agencies.

Furthermore, there appears to be an inflection point in news media data partway through the year 2015. The numbers are reproduced in the chart below to enable a clearer view.

In the three years of 2012, 2013 and 2014, there were 5 fatal collisions in each year. Then in 2015 there were 9 and this rose to 15 fatal collisions in 2016. As can be seen in the remaining years the number of fatal collisions involving fires have remained at this higher level. We can see in the newer data since the year 2016 that deaths and injuries from vehicle fires appear to be increasing yet no data is available from the provincial government beyond the year 2017.

Why are such important and tragic incidents not reported in provincial reports such as the ORSAR? Also the public distribution of the ORSAR continues to be delayed. The Ontario government has only recently uploaded the 2017 version of the report while it is now 2021.

Is there a safety problem with an increased number of vehicle fires? Are more vehicles catching fire in collisions and are more persons dying in these collisions? Clearly the numbers of fatalities reported in the news media would suggest so. Will we have  to wait another 4 years before the official data from 2020 becomes available from official government sources?