I recently saw on the television a news clip reminding viewers that twenty years ago there occurred one of the worst multiple vehicle pile ups on Ontario roads and in particular the 401 in the Chatham-Kent and Windsor-Essex area.

Imagine that you are setting off on a relatively short journey – maybe around 50 Km’s, it is the end of October and fall is underway. It is drizzling and it looks quite misty. Never mind you say to yourself it is only a short trip and I am going on the highway where all vehicles are going in the same direction.

As you leave home, you wave goodbye to your wife and off you go. The car is not warm yet but the windshield is misting up making it a little difficult to see clearly. But, fairly soon it starts to clear and you join the highway. The drizzle is turning into a heavy mist or is it fog? Visibility is reducing all the time and you are trying to drive at a safe speed and keep your distance from the vehicle in front of you. Traffic is hurtling past you and you wonder how they can see when you are having difficulty keep an eye on the truck in front of you. You are keeping to the speed of the truck because you can see his tail lights. As it becomes foggier you realise that occasionally you get too close to the truck and you have to brake in order to avoid getting too close.

Traffic is still passing you but you remain in the ‘granny lane’ where you feel safest but you are nervous and this is becoming a ‘white knuckle’ ride! Suddenly the brake lights on the truck in front of you come on and before you can apply your brakes you just hit the back of the truck. Then the nightmare begins! Fortunately you are only shaken up – nothing broken and you are confused about what to do now. Do you sit in your car or do you get out? In the few seconds that you are working this out your car is rammed from behind. You are thrown forward in your seat when suddenly there is another massive jolt as another vehicle slams into the car that hit you. This continues for several minutes which seem like hours. The thudding of vehicle into vehicle continues but is much less of a jolt now. This is because the line of wrecked vehicles is getting longer and longer. You finally realise that you can only get out of your car on the passenger side because your door is twisted and jammed. Traffic seems to have stopped now and you can hear people shouting and then you hear somebody yelling “Fire, Fire”. Now that you are out of your car and standing a safe distance away from the shoulder you can still hear the carnage and devastation continuing.

You become shocked at the realisation of what could have happened to you – you are just shaken up with nothing more than your car damaged!

This is the beginning of fall and it will soon be winter. It is very dangerous to follow tail lights because you never know when that vehicle in front may come to a shuddering stop and if you are driving too closely or too fast you probably cannot stop in time. When you are driving along and suddenly the vehicle in front of you comes to a dead stop there are two vitally important factors to consider.

Thinking Distance and Braking Distance. The thinking distance is the distance that your vehicle travels in the time it takes for the driver to apply the brakes after realising that they need to be applied.

The braking distance is the distance your car travels after you have applied the brakes hard until your vehicle comes to a stop. The faster you are travelling, the more momentum you have and the braking distance will increase. Look at the Thinking and Braking distances below.


  1. The thinking distance (at 100 Kmph) is how far your vehicle will travel before applying the brakes – about 20 metres.
  2. The braking distance (from100 Kmph) is how far your vehicle will travel after you apply the brakes is about 75 metres.
  3. Total stopping distance at 100 km p h is around 95 metres, (about 18 car lengths or 312 feet)

Figures are on dry roads with your vehicle in perfect condition – wet and icy conditions – distances are much longer.

Winter will soon be here again and the “it will not happen to me” mentality will kick in – again. Do not fall into the trap of playing “Russian Roulette” with your life and the lives of others. Everybody wants to go home safely – you can help!

I attended many serious multiple vehicle accidents as a paramedic in England during my 31 years of service on motorways in England (similar to 400 series roads here) in dense fog as well as icy roads on a number of occasions in the winter.

Drive to the conditions of the weather – not at a speed that you feel uncomfortable but at a safe speed.

  • Do not ‘tailgate’ – this is very dangerous.
  • Drive at a speed that you feel safe.
  • Never use ‘Cruise Control’ in wet or slippy conditions.
  • Do not use any electronic devises while driving (GPS, change radio settings or CELL PHONES)!
  • Do not drive if you have consumed any alcohol or drugs.
  • If you are driving in snow – go slower – drive to the road conditions.
  • If you are driving in fog – do not ‘cling’ to the tail lights of the vehicle in front – that vehicle may suddenly stop.
  • If you can not see where you are going because of fog/mist – leave the highway and wait for conditions to improve.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

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