Highway mayhem has been a conspicuous and disconcerting feature of the winter of 2013-14. That is especially true in Ontario, where spectacular multi-vehicle crashes have been taking place with very disturbing regularity.
According to the Ontario Provincial Police, excessive speeding and tailgating have been primary contributing factors.
"We have put the message out there to slow down," confirmed OPP Const. Stacey Culbert.
But seemingly to no avail. The carnage continues.
On Feb. 27, a massive 98-vehicle pileup closed Highway 400 near Barrie, Ont., and resulted in more than one kilometre of twisted wreckage. There were four other serious chain-reaction crashes that day.
The next day, a 115-vehicle crash took place on Highway 401 near Belleville and a 37-vehicle crash near London.
A string of major chain-reaction smash-ups were ushered in on Dec. 14 with a 20-car mess on the Queen Elizabeth Way near Toronto. This winter, there were 311 multi-vehicle crashes on a small stretch of Highway 401 near London alone.
"Highways in North America are full of tailgaters, and collisions often occur because somebody is following too closely," cautioned a spokesman with the California Highway Patrol. "It's what happens when you tailgate."
According to the OPP, the mayhem this winter has been largely avoidable, but drivers persist in travelling too fast and tailgating under bad winter driving conditions.
Tailgating is emerging as a major concern of police, and suggested remedial action has included suspension of driving privileges.
"Tailgating is the No. 1 cause of rear-end accidents," reported traffic specialist Adam Marshall.
A recent University of Iowa study concluded "tailgating is a leading cause of rear-end crashes."
"Tailgating is usually deliberate and aggressive close-following," confirmed the Centre for Automotive Safety Research.
New studies show tailgating can precipitate road rage.
"Impatient and irresponsible drivers who tailgate often prompt the driver in front to (retaliate)," reported the RAC Foundation.
More than one-third of all motor vehicle crashes are rear-enders "that are the most likely accidents to result from tailgating," confirmed researcher Deepak Shrestha.
The National Safety Council has recommended a safe-driving headway distance of 10 seconds between vehicles under icy and snowy conditions. But Transport Canada reports that tailgaters seem to think they are entitled to ignore such safety standards.
The RAC Foundation reports that drivers of some types of vehicles, such as SUVs, BMWs and 4 X 4s, are more likely to tailgate and for reasons that are not clear.
The psychology of tailgating has not been rigorously studied, but it seems tailgaters ignore the inherent dangers.
"A driver tailgates... fully conscious of the inherent risks, to avoid having other drivers in front," explained researcher B.H. Jonah.
Researchers suggest there is a narcissistic element to tailgating.
"Individuals who (tailgate) may misconstrue (other) drivers as an impediment," concluded researchers Thomas W. Brett and Michael Garrety.
The correlation of speeding and tailgating with regard to multi-vehicle crashes does not only pertain to Ontario. The implications are continent-wide. Police caution that drivers should be "educated" to drive accordingly.
Robert Alison is zoologist and freelance writer
living in Barrie, Ont.