The Macdonald-Cartier Freeway, or Highway 401, is the busiest freeway in North America. Starting just outside Windsor, Ontario, it ends 815 km (506 mi) later at the Quebec border. In September 1999 a terrible pile-up of 87 vehicles took place on the section running between Windsor and London, a stretch often referred to as ‘Carnage Alley’ due to the numerous accidents that have occurred there.
The 401, built during the 1950s, is narrow-laned, soft-shouldered and intersected by a strip of grass. It is mainly straight, which in itself has caused accidents with drivers occasionally falling asleep at the wheel. At 08.00 on September 3 1999 the sky was blue, with just a few puffs of fog left over from the previous night. No fog was forecast, but little did anyone know that there was a malfunction at the nearby Observation Station and that there was, in fact, a thick wall of fog on the road.
People were driving fast, many tailgating one another. Without warning, drivers in both directions were suddenly blanketed in dense fog. Braking hard, they found themselves slamming into the car in front while simultaneously being rammed by the vehicle behind, thus causing an unstoppable chain reaction. Car piled into car, vehicles slewed across the central strip into the opposite lanes, trucks piled into and over cars that had already crashed, and fire broke out.
When the fog lifted, broken glass lay everywhere and the horrific sounds of screaming victims could be heard. A total of 87 cars and trucks were scattered, wrecked and burning across 2 km (1.24 mi) of the freeway. Those who were able, ran for their lives but eight unfortunate people died and 40 were injured on that day in southern Ontario.
When was the Pile-up on Highway 401: September 3 1999
Where was the Pile-up on Highway 401: Between London and Windsor, Ontario, Canada
What was the Pile-up on Highway 401 death toll: Eight fatalities and 40 injured.
You should know: After the pile-up, paved shoulders, rumble strips and extra police patrols were added to the section, and improvements are ongoing. Extra lanes are being added and a central concrete barrier, known as an Ontario Tail-Wall, is being constructed in order to prevent accidents spilling across the lanes.