Collisions and Road Closures

Intersection CrashHey, you'll know the answer to this, why are the police allowed to close the highway for so long to investigate a collision? I don't think that it should ever be closed for more than about an hour.

This question and opinion were presented to me after the last collision on the Malahat Highway when it was closed for 6 hours to investigate a two vehicle collision that killed one person and seriously injured two others. Due to the nature of the highway system there are only two detours around the crash site. One is a small ferry that cannot move significant volumes of traffic and the other involves driving a considerable distance out of the way.

To get some idea of why the road can be closed for so long, let's look at a hypothetical collision. From the moment of the crash, the clock starts ticking.

Calls are made to emergency services. These days not a lot of time is wasted here as many people have cell phones and we have relatively good cellular phone service.

It takes time to get police, fire and ambulance to the scene and as they arrive, each service organizes and begin to do their jobs.

The police have to prevent the situation from becoming worse, preserve the scene as far as possible, gather evidence, identify witnesses. If they are first on scene they must provide necessary aid as well. They will most likely be at the scene for the duration of the incident.

The fire department may also be called on to prevent the situation from becoming worse. They will stabilize vehicles, put out fires, disconnect vehicle batteries and try to minimize any other hazards that may threaten anyone at the scene.

The tricky task of extracting victims from damaged vehicles may be tedious and delicate. It's a balance of haste to preserve life and caution to not injure people further.

Ambulance paramedics support patients from the scene to the hospital. The erroneous perception of loading people into the ambulance and immediately screaming away does not do the reality justice. It is not uncommon for paramedics to spend time at the scene stabilizing a patient so that they will survive the trip to hospital.

If an air ambulance is required, it can take time to call and arrive. In some cases, the only place it can land is on the highway at the scene.

Beyond the initial road closure to provide a safe working area for emergency services, permission of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is required to continue a closure. Generally, the closure service is provided by the road maintenance contractor who arranges for a flagging company to assist them.

If setting up single lane traffic is required it can take a long time to organize and execute.

Should a death occur, the scene now comes under the jurisdiction of the coroner, who must provide authorization before the scene is disturbed. It is not uncommon for the coroner to visit the scene before giving their authorization.

The collision that prompted this question was allegedly caused by an alcohol impaired driver. This means the police are essentially now conducting a homicide investigation because that driver was not the fatality. Society and the court system has expectations that the police conduct a thorough investigation.

This too can take a significant amount of time depending on how complicated the scene turns out to be.

All of these minutes can add up to quite a delay when you are sitting in your vehicle waiting to continue your journey.

The ubiquitous video camera feeds news services and social media today. These videos often show emergency personnel standing around at a crash scene, appearing to be doing nothing. Generally, this is far from the truth, as in my experience they are most likely waiting for one step to be completed before they can carry on with their job.

The time taken does need to be balanced according to everyone's needs and the requirements of the law. What price and responsibility do we put on a death or serious injury? Your comments are welcome.




Closing Highway/roads

A really, really excellent explanation.  

I am goob smacked that it was even asked.  My first impression;  a very selfish question.  And confirms that ignorant drivers need constant education that the roads are not there JUST for them!  

At times there are reasons for extended Hwy closures,,, but

Every incident that involves emergency services, such as police, fire, ambulance, recovery vehicles is different.

A semi crashing through a bridge railing, rocking precariously with the need for heavy recovery vehicles to utilize the remaining portion of the bridge to effect recovery.

Difficult extrications etc etc.

But I think you have side stepped the fact that many highway closures due to collisions being investigated by police are extended for a lengthy time long after the injured and dead have been removed from the scene.

In this day and age police have many tools to record the circumstances at the incident scene that can, at a later and likely more appropriate time, be further investigated.

Agree with my5cents

When ever there is an accident the first priority is to look after the occupants of the vehicles.

But today we have video cameras, drones that can record the accident scene and probably more useful than trying to brush the snow off the road to take all those measurements. This information should be recorded ASAP. There is no reason as soon as an officer is free from helping with the extraction of people that a flight over the scene recording information cannot be done. Interviewing witnesses could wait or even record personal information and have them stop at the next detachment and provide a statement.

I know of far too many incidents where nothing was done while an accident reconstructionist drove in from 400k away. All the time nothing was done on getting the highway open.

Going back in history and not that many years commercial vehicle accidents often resulted in the damaged vehicle, trailer and contents would be pushed off the road at the nearest widening of the highway and then opened for traffic. Today this is not done. They will spend hours loading everything up from where it is at. All the time keeping the highway closed.

What bothers people is that instead of getting more proficient in getting accidents cleaned up we have gone the other way. It is time technology was utilised to reduce closure times.

Last but not least I know people that will not watch "Highway through Hell", strictly for the quote "Closure is not an option". Closure is the only option and no thought is given to getting the road open.


Submitted by E-Mail

Road closures due to a collision are a good case for riding a bicycle…..just slip right by the accident scene and keep on going, after rendering any necessary assistance, of course.

I disagree

The only ‘complaint’ I am reading here is that the drivers who are being inconvenienced due to a serious and probably fatal accident are annoyed at having to wait for clearance to continue. It’s a very selfish and entitled environment we have raised and I suspect if it was their family/friend who was part of that “accident” the inconvenienced driver would expect the same level of expertise to investigate the cause, especially if there is a criminal offence to be considered.  The “old” ways of just pushing the debris and bodies off to the side of to the road as if they were disposable or insignificant are long gone, thank goodness.  The years have taught us to be better at investigating and determining the causes of such tragedies in hope to improve or punish those responsible.  I can see we have a long way to teach drivers to be patient and TOLERANT.  It’s not all about you.

I disagree. Very naive comment

Leisa, I would appreciate if you would re-read my post. I pointed out that looking after the injured is the first priority

I never said to push the debris and bodies off to the side of the road. I find that comment ignorant and insulting. If one is going to comment on an article please keep to facts and not disparage what others have posted without looking at what is being said objectively.

I would suggest you check out this post from June 29, 2017

There is new technology which is starting to work its way into the field. At the cost of drones today it should be part of every highway patrol vehicle. These could be used to take aerial photos and videos of the entire scene and probably be of greater value than measurements taken on the ground.

Another factor in this is many accidents happen in winter snow storms and what evidence there is on the ground is quickly covered.

Today police seldom help with the recovery of injured. In fact they may not even be the first on the scene. Ambulance services get the message at the same time as police and as paramedics do not patrol the highway can be dispatched immediately. The nearest police officer could be at the other end of their patrol area or must be pulled from another incident. For highway accidents either the local Search and Rescue or Fire/Rescue are dispatched at the same time. It is the SR or FR that carry the equipment needed for extractions such as jaws of life etc.

These volunteers also have extensive first aid many to the same degree as the paramedics. Locally I know that all the tow truck drivers have first aid and two work in the paramedic field. From the time the ambulance arrives at the scene and all injured are in transportation to the local hospital seldom exceeds two hours.

As police officers are not involved in these extractions they are free to do their own work.

Now consider a major highway such as the Trans Canada. Traffic volumes vary considerably. During the summer tourist season traffic volumes are 1,000 vehicles/hour. Winter low overnight 264/hr. The winter low is predominantly overnight truck traffic between Calgary and Vancouver. So in the summer a four hour blockage of a road has 4,000 or winter a minimum of 1,056 vehicles.

There is also the safety factor of long closures. Winter the traffic that is caught on the highway can end up stopped in avalanche zones. Vehicles being caught in avalanches have happened where they are either buried or swept off the highway.

Communities affected due to insufficient traffic control have had areas of the community cut off from emergency services and local residents can not travel from one area to another. And don't tell us to walk or use a bike when the highway is blocked and you have 15cm of slush due to the impossibility to plow the snow due to the congestion.

Next is inconvenience to people that are caught in the traffic. The summer is the worst because of tourist but every long closure has people running out of fuel. These vehicles literally have to be pushed or pulled out of the traffic lane when the roads open. Cars no problem, motor homes or trailer combinations bit more difficult.

Families. Obviously Leisa you have never been caught in a traffic jam like this in the middle of nowhere with kids. Well there is no Porta Potties around, no convenience store for snacks, if you ran out of fuel in the winter you are freezing cold.

Economics. Major highways carry millions of dollars of commerce every day. Local business that rely on the roads for their commerce such as logging/mining cannot work. Local stores that rely on deliveries of fresh products may run out.

The people that work out of the communities that rely on the highway end up not working for a day. Maybe even yourself Leisa end up working a double shift or you can't get home being stuck in traffic. What happens to your kids at home? 

No one minds the time required to look after the people that are injured what people like myself are complaining about is the unnecessary length of time after the injured have been looked after. Like I mentioned in my first post waiting 4 hours for an accident re-constructionist to arrive or 12 hours for the Coroner. Remember other than removing the injured nothing is done during this time.

If you read the article I referred to above the Mayor of Whistler wants 90 minute max for closures the same that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. And the Whistler Mayor is not the only one in B.C. that has voiced concern. Most Mayor's along the Trans Canada have voiced concern. What I and I believe most others are concerned about is the excessive time taken to do the work required.

Naive, Ignorant and Insulting

Well James..... that took me quite sometime to digest.  Of course resorting to name calling/labelling like ignorant & naive is insulting on its own, but hey, don’t take it personally.  Your admonishments have fallen on deaf ears as I am much wiser (and older) to be owning those. 

Let us not get into a pi**ing contest here.  My statements were MY opinion, generally, I don’t believe I referred to you - personally or by name.  So don’t take it personally.

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