No casualties in massive pileup on Highway 401

An upturned truck lies in a ditch after a massive crash along the 401. More than 100 vehicles were involved in the incident.

By Barett Poley

Bowmanville, Ontario — January 9, 2017 — Ontario’s Highway 401 is both famous and infamous. The road, running between Windsor and the Ontario-Quebec border, is famous for being one of North America’s busiest highway. It’s also infamous as one of the most dangerous roads in the country, especially the stretch around the community of Bowmanville. Highway 401 lived up to its dubious reputation on the weekend, when a massive pileup involving more than 100 vehicles closed the road for over nine hours.

Miraculously, the Ontario Provincial Police reported that nobody was seriously injured or killed in the accident, although several people were taken to hospital. The rescue efforts and clean-up work made driving along the stretch of highway impossible, and all lanes through the Bowmanville-area were closed.

This isn’t the first time that Highway 401 has seen a monumental pileup. In 1999, there was a pile-up involving 87 cars along the 401 near Windsor. That incident resulted in eight deaths and more than 45 serious or life threatening injuries.

The heavy traffic the road carries may be partially to blame. The Toronto stretch of Highway 401 saw a whopping 442,900 cars per day on average last year. This is more than four times the 100,000 cars a day it was originally designed for, more than 40 years ago.

Winter tires, or a lack thereof, could also have played a part. According to a survey conducted last year by Hankook Tire, only about 64 percent of Canadian motorists install snow tires. Adoption is highest in Quebec at 97 percent, where the use of winter tires is mandated by law.

Another factor may have been the cold and snowy weather the area has been experiencing lately, thanks to unique conditions off of Lake Ontario. Environment Canada even issued a “Safe Travel Warning” the same day as the incident, stating a “travel weather advisory is in effect for a small portion of the Highway 401 corridor between Bowmanville and Port Hope. A snow band off of Lake Ontario is creating local low visibilities and some accumulating snow in this area.”

The lack of deaths and injuries may be due to the improved technology and safety features in modern vehicles. According to a report by the Transport Ministry of Canada, from 2010 to 2013 (which similar results projected until 2020), road fatalities and serious injuries have been decreasing in Ontario, despite there being more cars on the road. The province saw a similar number of road collisions compared to past years, but fatalities are down. It looks like the new and improved safety features in cars, notably larger A-pillars, better airbags and the spread of advanced driver assistance systems, are saving lives.

Numerous YouTube users posted videos of the accident. You can check out one of the more dramatic views in the player below, including a jack-knifed tractor-trailer around the 1:30 mark.


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