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A detailed look at the Humboldt Broncos crash report

Peter Caulfield
A detailed look at the Humboldt Broncos crash report
Andrew Scheer/Wikimedia Commons

A traffic engineering review of safety at an intersection in rural Saskatchewan where a deadly crash between a coach bus carrying young hockey players and a semi-trailer took place last year is calling for major changes.

The report, called the Highway 35 and Highway 335 Intersection In-Service Road Safety Review, is publicly available on the Saskatchewan Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure website.

The Saskatchewan provincial government commissioned the report following a collision involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team in early April 2018.

Sixteen people, most of them 18 to 20 years old, lost their lives and another 13 were injured in the crash.

In January 2019, the driver of the truck pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 counts of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. The owner of the trucking company faces eight counts of failing to comply with various safety and log-keeping regulations.

The purpose of the study, which was prepared by McElhanney Consulting Services Ltd., was three-fold: to review the geometric, collision, traffic and human factor characteristics of the intersection of Highways 35 and 33; identify any issues that could increase the risk of collisions at the intersection; and recommend improvements that may reduce those risks.

The report made 13 recommendations to improve the overall safety of the intersection, all of which the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure says it will implement.

Some sample recommendations include widening the road shoulders; removing trees on private property; realigning grain elevator access to Highway 335; relocating railway signals; installing light standards on breakaway bases; removing gravel roadway; painting a solid centre line on Highway 35 and Highway 335; making various sign-related enhancements; realigning overhead powerlines; placing rumble strips on Highway 335 approaches; and installing “Stop” and “Stop Ahead” pavement messages.

“The ministry is inspecting all intersections under our jurisdiction to ensure visibility and sightlines are adequate,” says Doug Wakabayashi, executive director of the ministry’s communications and customer service branch.

Wakabayashi says the ministry has already reviewed 900 highway-to-highway and highway-to-community access road intersections.

According to a government announcement, “we have dedicated to completing the following actions” by the end of the fiscal year:

  • replace all missing and damaged stop signs;
  • clear brush within the right-of-way to improve sightlines at intersections;
  • work with landowners to clear easy-to-remove obstructions on private land, such as brush and movable structures; and
  • determine locations in violation of permits and send notices to landowners to remove obstructions.

The ministry is also finalizing what it calls a long-term integrated safety strategy, of which the province’s intersections will be “areas of focus.”

The government’s announcement is a good first step toward enhancing the safety of road users at high-speed intersections, says Ahmed Shalaby, a professor and municipal infrastructure research chair in the University of Manitoba’s department of civil engineering.

“At the same time, the unprecedented magnitude of the Broncos bus crash tragedy is unfortunately not captured in this report, nor was it expected to be captured within its limited scope,” he says. “The tragic crash is counted as another incident, one of seven recorded at this location, with no discernible risk trends that could be identified.”

Shalaby says the crash and its aftermath show that Canada needs to develop the capacity to conduct federal and independent road safety and bridge failure investigations.

“I have called for empowering the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to conduct these investigations in the manner they investigate all other transportation modes,” he says. “This capacity already exists in the United States and Europe.”

For sake of comparison, Shalaby cited the example of a limousine crash in New York State in October 2018.

The mishap, which took place almost exactly six months after the Saskatchewan tragedy, resulted in 20 fatalities and was the deadliest transportation incident in the U.S. since a plane crash in 2009.

“The safety investigation of the crash in New York is being conducted by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board,” says Shalaby. “The board’s team arrived on the scene within hours of the crash and had unlimited access to evidence, data and feedback from all stakeholders.

“We can be certain the impact of the American investigation will be far-reaching, and that its recommendations will improve the safety of limousine operations in the United States and, very likely, in Canada as well.”

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