Highway 401 in Southern Ontario is slated for widening between Tilbury and London from 4-lanes to 6-lanes. In a recent Windsor Star article Chatham-Kent-Leamington Provincial Parliament representative, MPP Rick Nicholls was quoted as saying ““My concern is that we need to have it done prior to the Gordie Howe (International) Bridge being built in Windsor because once that opens up, the amount of transport trucks on 401 is going to be huge.” The article also indicated that the Gordie Howe bridge is expected to be open for traffic in late 2024.

The general premise is that more lanes will result in more efficient passage of traffic and efficiency is a benefit to our society. But efficiency is not the only factor that is of importance. Reduction of safety problems that cause collisions is also important. Injuries and deaths are costly, not just in emotional terms, but in financial costs as well. The volume of heavy trucks currently moving through the area of Highway 401 between London and Tilbury on a regular weekday approaches 50% of all traffic. So how much additional, heavy truck volume does Mr. Nicholls, and the Province of Ontario, expect if the increase is supposed to be “huge”? Is Mr. Nicholls speaking with direct knowledge of what Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation expects? Or is this a personal belief?

An increase in highway safety problems could come with those extra lanes and trucks. Concrete median barriers may help to improve some aspects of the highway’s safety by preventing a collision or loss-of-control incident from becoming worse. But there needs to be better communication in general about the causes of collisions and loss-of-control incidents on Highway 401.

This is an area where the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) maintains control about what it knows. Some sensors exist along the full highway system that document data such as traffic volumes, size of vehicles and inter-vehicle gaps. But it is doubtful that such sensors could provide the essential details about how vehicles interact and what motions precede collison and loss-of-control events. Such details require a closer examination of traffic.

Junction boxes attached to magnetic coils imbedded in the pavement of Highway 401 are located near all entrances and exits to the highway and this provides some general information about the composition and flow of traffic.

Traffic cameras exist in heavier-populated areas in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and they can provide the essential details that cannot be obtained from current sensor installations. But only sparse installations exist along the corridor from London toward Windsor. Depending on the manner of installation details of traffic motions  can be obtained from such cameras. Artificial intelligence can speed up the analysis. However it remains unknown what MTO does with the video and who has been given access to its vast data.

Police reconstructions of collisions on Highway 401 can provide some useful data about collision causation. However those evaluations are focused on the few seconds before a collision, and events during and after the collision, where physical evidence and vehicle-mounted event data recorders (EDRs) provide reasonably accurate details. However many collisions “begin” well before the creation of physical evidence and before the permanent storage of event data. And some factors, such as the motions of other, non-involved vehicles, are never documented by event data recorders.

It is known that near misses and minimal impacts lie at the very large base of the collision-data pyramid. Yet official collision databases provide no information about the characteristics of this events. Many believe that, because they involve minimal or no material consequence, they are of little importance. Others understand that their large numbers can provide insights into collision causation that may not be apparent in the smaller segment of serious-injury and fatal collisions. When these incidents are not officially documented they do not exist.

A damaged bumper to a private vehicle is, officially, irrelevant. Yet for the private owner who must pay for its repair the cost could be substantial if the owner has limited resources to pay. How many of these uncounted incidents exist is unknown, but they are likely to be vast. When official agencies develop policy from cost-benefit analysis these “small” hidden incidents are rarely added to the equation. As another example, the seemingly low cost of a High Tension Cable Barrier (HTCB) that has been installed along Highway 401 between Tilbury and London has to take into account the repetitive cost of work crews blocking travel lanes to make the repairs of a minor impact. The blockage of a travel lane causes disturbances in the traffic flow and the causation of more collisions. The collisions that occur during that lane blockage are not officially viewed as being caused by the HTCB installation but by the inattention and “stupidity” of drivers. Additionally the time delay when anchor posts from cable barriers lie damaged and ineffective before they are repaired means that the public’s safety is compromised. Striking a cable barrier whose cables are loose and unsupported can lead to unknown consequences as no research exists of those potential dangers.

In this complex mix of hidden data and poor communication the public is poorly served by those agencies using its taxes to release information that it sees fit without much accountability for their decisions. “Open Data” that is supposed to exist continues to be “Closed Data” for all practical purposes.

Gorski Consulting is a rare and small, independent, source of information that gathers data outside of the official agencies that maintain a monopoly on that process. With limited resources and no official funding Gorski Consulting has been able to conduct useful, though limited, research that is not controlled by any outside agency. Transfer of the results of that research into the public domain is limited by the agencies that use large public funds to support their own actions and policies, while suppressing independent views.

With respect to Highway 401 Gorski Consulting has be able to conduct a number of detailed studies that were discussed in several articles posted on the Gorski Consulting website in the fall of 2018. Multiple, synchronized, video cameras were placed in the vicinity of overpasses on Highway 401 and these methods have resulted in detailed documentations of vehicle volumes, speeds, passing motions, gaps, veering out of a lane, and other facts.

An example of multiple video cameras set up at 100 metre intervals in the ditch of Highway 401 in the fall of 2018. As vehicles pass each camera location the timing of their passage provides a measurement of their speed and other facts.

Some excerpts from several articles on the Gorski Consulting website relating to the research being conducted on Highway 401 are shown below.

December 27, 2018

Traffic volumes in the westbound lanes of Highway 401 were documented during five testing sessions in the fall of 2018. The following table provides an indication of the percentage of Class 8 (Tractor-trailers) and buses that have been documented during these sessions. The smaller percentages from December 2nd (Sunday) and November 23 (U.S. Thanksgiving) relate to holiday and weekend sessions where heavy vehicle traffic is much lower than during typical weekdays.

December 20, 2018

We have now discussed a number of issues relating to the safety of Highway 401 between Tilbury and London, Ontario. This length of highway is where the new High Tension Cable Median Barrier is being installed by the Ontario Ministry of Transport. In earlier posts we have shown how many large trucks drive through area. During weekdays the percentage of transport trucks may approach 50%. During weekends and holidays that percentage is less. We have also examined the difference in speed between trucks that are limited to a maximum of about 105 km/h and non-trucks that travel at an average speed of 116 to 119 km/h. And we have also presented data indicating that over 18% of drivers allow a gap of less than two seconds between the front of their vehicle and the rear of the vehicle they are following. These are some of the data that provide a glimpse of the safety problem on Highway 401.

December 20, 2018

An unintended veering out of a travel lane can be the cause of traffic disruptions that ultimately lead to a collision. Collision Reconstructionists who examine the post-collision evidence are rarely able to detect the physical evidence of such an action because, for the vast percentage of cases, no physical evidence exists.

To get a handle on how often such veering occurs Gorski Consulting has examined the videotaped observations of traffic from four sessions at three sites along Highway 401 in South-western Ontario. As mentioned in previous posts, these videotaping sessions were conducted this past fall using multiple video cameras over a period of 2 hours in each session.

December 20, 2018

As an independent, accident reconstruction and road safety business, Gorski Consulting has no special interest in the documenting of these incidents along Highway 401. Up to the present time we have not be retained by any involved party, municipality or the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to support or condemn the actions of any individual or organization. As a result our comments are completely free any special interest. While the future remains to be seen there are concerns that are beginning to reveal themselves of about the functioning of the HTCMB being installed along Highway 401 between Tilbury and London.

Most importantly it needs to be stressed that the OPP need to be involved in providing a detailed and unbiased documenting of those incidents where the HTCBM has been struck. While a single photo such as the one provided by the OPP can be helpful, it can also be deceiving. When evidence crucial to the understanding of the occurrences is not released the public develops a mislead understanding of these important events. If the documenting of these incidents is beyond the capability of the OPP another independent agency needs to become involved to make this information available to the general public.

December 16, 2018

We purposely focused on those vehicles that were following closely behind a leading vehicle. This can be considered to be unsafe because it may provide insufficient time to react to changing traffic conditions such as sudden slowing or stopping of traffic. The presence of large heavy trucks is a problem because they require a longer stopping distance but also because their large width and height makes it difficult for drivers following them to see the roadway ahead. We selected those observations where the time gap was 2.0 seconds or less and this is what is shown in the table.

As an example using the “Westminster Drive Oct 30th” data, of the 91 trucks that were observed in the right lane, 19 of those trucks were observed to be following a vehicle ahead by 2 seconds or less. Of the 46 “Non-Trucks”, 11 of those were observed to be following at 2 seconds or less.  Thus, in terms of percentage, 20.9 percent of trucks were following a 2 seconds or less and 23.9 percent of non-trucks was following at 2 seconds or less. These percentages are shown for all four sessions below:

Westminster Drive Oct 30th: Trucks =20.9, Non-trucks= 23.9

Westminster Drive Dec 2nd: Trucks=14.1, Non-trucks=24.2

Graham Road: Trucks=15.9, Non-trucks=20.8

Dillon Road: Trucks=4.8, Non-trucks=16.2

We can also take all four sessions as a whole and indicate that of the 260 observations of heavy trucks 40, or 15.4 percent were observed to be following a vehicle at 2 seconds or less. For the 272 observations of non-trucks, 58, or 21.3 percent were observed to be following a vehicle at 2 seconds or less.

The issue of the safety of Canada’s busiest highway is an important one and requires objective data in order to reach proper conclusions. Yet very little of that objective data is available to the general public. It is ultimately the public that votes for their political representatives and produces the momentum toward change. When the public is provided with no meaningful information or is misinformed, the direction of change is not in a positive direction. By providing the public with meaningful objective data Gorski Consulting is meeting the need of the public for information it needs to provide informed opinions.

December 11, 2018

The presence of heavy trucks is likely to be one of the major factors in the highway’s collision history. As noted previously, truck traffic is limited to travel at a maximum of 105 km/h whereas the light vehicles travel much faster, about 116 to 118 km/h. This difference occurs even though the heavy trucks are slowing the other vehicles by “interfering” in their travel. While slowing these speeders may be a good thing it is also creating traffic conflicts that we need to consider.

November 21, 2018

Everyone understands that the official speed limit of 100 km/h is not the practical speed limit that is enforced. Observations suggest that the enforced speed limit may be something in the range of 120 km/h, but only the OPP know for sure. But what speed is being enforced within a construction zone? If the speed limit is 80 km/h do the OPP only charge drivers who are travelling at 100 km/h or higher? There would appear to be some confusion surrounding this point.

November 19, 2018

Observations by Gorski Consulting this fall have explored the speed and difference in speed of traffic along Highway 401 in southwestern Ontario. Observations by Gorski Consulting indicate that this expressway may carry anywhere between 42 and 48 percent of heavy truck traffic such as 18-wheeler tractor-trailers, truck trains and intercity buses. The Province of Ontario has created legislation that has reduced the maximum capable speed of heavy trucks to about 105 km/h. Observations by Gorski Consulting confirm that indeed almost all heavy trucks travel along Highway 401 at about 105 km/h. There is a conflict however when these large, slow-moving vehicles interact with much faster traffic that may be difficult for truck drivers to see and can accelerate out of blind spots into locations that truck drivers do not expect.

October 30, 2018

Construction, maintenance and policing activities become a problem when traffic volumes increase. Often lanes become closed for these activities and drivers must make adjustments in their speed and lane travel. Numerous collisions occur in construction zones when closed lanes cause drivers to change lanes or bring traffic to a halt. Many collisions occur when unsuspecting drivers approach the stopped traffic at highway speed but are too late in their detection that traffic is stopped. This is more problematic when heavy trucks are loaded with cargo but their braking systems make if difficult to stop as quickly as passenger cars and light trucks. Numerous problems like these require objective data in order to develop counter-measures that provide realistic solutions to the problem.

October 28, 2018

The difference in the numbers of observed speeders and what charges were laid outlines an obvious problem about the lack of enforcement of speed limits along Highway 401. The reality is that pulling vehicles over for a speeding violation along the Highway is a dangerous operation that could produce more harm because of the potential collisions that it can cause. While a “move over” law requires drivers to slow down and change lanes away from emergency vehicles the reality is that such changes in speed and direction are themselves the cause of collisions. In many instances speeding drivers cannot change lanes quickly enough because of factors such as visibility problems and traffic density. The sudden reduction in speed of vehicles causes speeding drivers to brake suddenly and cause problems for other speeding drivers around them. While it can be said that this is the fault of those speeders it never-the-less does not prevent the causation of serious consequences.