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Highway 401 is safer than you think

Published January 22, 2013

It’s no surprise the section of Highway 401 that cuts across the top of Toronto and spans the GTA is one of the biggest and busiest auto routes in North America.

With about half a million cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles making the daily trek along this multi-lane major traffic artery, sometimes moving at a bumper-to bumper snail’s pace, it is remarkable just how safe this complex road system really is.

“We’ve seen a reduction in the number of serious and fatal motor vehicle collisions over the last five years. It is one of the busiest and I would say it’s one of the safest in North America,” said Sgt. Dave Woodford of the Ontario Provincial Police.

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Woodford is the face of OPP often seen providing information on television news reports from the scene of fatal and serious accidents on provincial highways in and around the GTA.

The lowest ever roadway fatality rate was recorded in Ontario in 2009 setting a North American record in that last year a comprehensive provincial statistical review was completed.

While the province’s ministry of transportation then identified three stretches of the 401 as having the highest collision rates, it must be stressed that “hot spot” locations can change like the weather due a number of factors such as shifting construction zones and also depending on times of the day or night and seasonal conditions.

Ministry of Transportation calculations rate the six-kilometre portion of the highway from Dixie to Mavis Rds. through Mississauga as a location with the highest collision rate, with the 34 km stretch from Neilson Rd. in Scarborough to Highway 427 in Etobicoke coming in second.

The short four-kilometre span from Westney Rd. to Liverpool Rd., east of Toronto comes in third.

“Our latest statistics show that our traffic fatality rate of .62 per 10,000 licensed drivers is the lowest ever recorded in Ontario and the lowest in North America,” said Astrid Poei, communications coordinator with the ministry.

In his daily highway enforcement patrols and investigation of major collisions, Woodford notices certain factors coming into play, but he is reluctant to highlight any one specific location over another.

“Most of the crashes I go to are fatal accidents and the more serious ones. I have to say there really is no set pattern. The 427 at the QEW is one that first comes to mind but there are so many factors that come in to play. We look at speed, unsafe lane changes, mechanical issues, medical factors, people not wearing seat belts and also alcohol-related accidents,” he said.

Woodford acknowledged that construction zones can be a factor as the road becomes unfamiliar and many people don’t slow down for the reduced speed limit. Roads along airports, such as Highway 401 near Pearson International Airport and Highway 404 beside Buttonville Airport’s runways have seen their share of collisions due to motorists distracted by aircraft landing and taking off.

The busiest part of Highway 401 is near Weston Rd. and Highway 400 and it is actually a relatively safe spot because the exceedingly high volume of traffic keeps vehicles moving slowly, so most accidents involve minor fender-benders, rather than the high-speed crashes that occur on open stretches.

“Visibility is a huge factor and people tend to abide by the rules of the road when they see police cruisers. When they don’t see them, that’s when people take chances. Education is important and we’re always in the media telling people what they should be doing properly and what we’re finding wrong, especially on our long weekend initiatives,” Woodford said.

“To say there is one specific hotspot isn’t fair because I’ve seen them change, but we do focus our attention on specific areas when the need arises,” he added.

The OPP’s Highway Enforcement Team is an eight-member squad of traffic officers who concentrate their efforts on areas where they see a pattern of bad motorist behaviour and an increase in accidents.

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