GPS Answers: “Where’s Waldo?”

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R. Scott King, BSME ::::

Overview: By now it’s no secret that many motor vehicles are equipped with on-board event data recorders [EDR].  Capable of capturing data such as vehicle speed, brake and throttle application, and sometimes much more, such devices have been providing investigators and engineers with crash and other event data for over ten years.  More recently, however, investigators have discovered another potential source of electronic data, the portable Global Positioning System [GPS] device that so many of us have and rely upon in our vehicles.

Case Synopsis: In a recent case, an insured driver was involved in a single-vehicle crash resulting in significant damage to his vehicle and his residence.  The insured reported the incident to his carrier the following day.  During his recorded statement, the insured reported he had been working late on the evening of the incident and that he lost control of his vehicle because it suddenly and unintentionally accelerated.   During their investigation, engineers inspected the vehicle and imaged data from its on-board EDR. However, during the inspection, they also observed a portable GPS device on the dashboard of the insured’s vehicle.  With the insured’s consent, the engineers also imaged the contents of the GPS device. 

Expert Analysis: This particular GPS device, like most portable units, was capable of recording and storing trips, routes and track data as well as providing a chronological record of where the device has been and when it was there.  Utilizing specialized equipment and software, engineers imaged and analyzed the data stored within the device and what they found was surprising to the carrier and concerning to the insured.

Contrary to his recorded statement, the GPS data reported the device had not been at the insured’s office but, in fact, had been at a location over 10 miles away and was there for nearly 6 hours.  Using the satellite imagery and database features of their analysis software, investigators determined that the GPS device was in the parking lot of a local casino.  Then the data showed the route from the casino parking lot to the insured’s residence where the incident reportedly occurred.  Additionally, the EDR information showed that the vehicle did not accelerate unintentionally as the insured reported, but actually indicated that the acceleration was simply the result of the operator applying the accelerator pedal instead of the brake pedal. 

Result: As this example demonstrates, information derived from a GPS, whether alone or in conjunction with data obtained from other on-board devices, can provide information describing operator intent and pattern of life. When presented with this information, the insured in this case undoubtedly and “willingly” accepted responsibility for the damage and learned a valuable lesson.

 

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