TechnoTalk – What Your Vehicle is Saying These Days!

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R. Scott King, BSME  
DJS Associates, Inc. ::::

Each new vehicle model year brings with it new and exciting options of styling, performance and, perhaps most important, technology. From Bluetooth connectivity to real-time traffic and radar weather updates, auto manufacturers provide consumers a seemingly never-ending array of new, “must-have” features and equipment. But their techno-generous ways are apparently not limited to the end consumer. On the contrary, the auto industry seems willing to feed an ever-growing appetite for accident investigation technology. Indeed, based on the latest release of the industry-standard Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) software, carmakers are providing access to more post-crash data and vehicle parameters than ever before.

The list of vehicles equipped with event data recorders and supported by the CDR software has grown steadily in recent years; however, what is truly remarkable is the number of individual data elements potentially available during a post-incident investigation. Most manufacturers provide some degree of “pre-crash” data that typically includes vehicle speed, engine speed, as well as brake and accelerator pedal application. Experience has shown this is often among the most sought information because it helps answer the question of speed and other operator actions. Such parameters have been widely available from many GM vehicles for nearly a decade. More recently, however, the list of data elements has grown well beyond this basic list.

For example, many Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep products now provide access to vehicle parameters such as pre-event tire pressure, steering wheel position, vehicle rate-of-turn, and panic-brake assist activation. Data found in many new Ford Products include transmission gear position, the factory-programmed vehicle identification number (VIN), a key-ON timer, and vehicle roll-rate. The list of data elements found in many General Motors vehicles now includes engine torque, cruise-control activation, lateral and longitudinal roll-over data, and occupant containment system activation. Other vehicles currently supported by the latest CDR software include certain Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Sterling, and Suzuki, providing similar data coverage.

The complete list of data elements potentially available from a particular vehicle is truly remarkable. For example, a single 2009 Ford vehicle can potentially record up to 28 individual data elements, while a 2009 Chrysler product could potentially record up to 45 elements. With the marked increase in recorded vehicle parameters comes a corresponding increase in the kinds of questions that can be answered. For example, “Did a particular tire deflate prior to a crash or did it deflate post-impact?” or “What direction did the operator turn the steering wheel immediately before departing the roadway?” Other examples include, “Does the electronically-stored VIN match the VIN on the door label?” or “Did the vehicle ‘suddenly accelerate’ or did the operator accidentally apply the accelerator?”

While no one can predict the future, the industry does seem poised to continue on its path of increased access to Event Data Recorder (EDR) parameters. One likely assurance of this is the recent passage of Federal legislation requiring that manufacturers who elect to include an EDR on a particular vehicle provide easy access to the recorded data. Scheduled for Model Year 2012 implementation, carmakers are seemingly anticipating this timeline and are thus accelerating the breadth and depth of EDR technology. Likewise, the Society of Automotive Engineers has developed a family of Recommended Practices, J1698, establishing a standardized presentation format of recorded data elements. In short, the Recommended Practice seeks to ensure that printed data reports appear identical regardless of vehicle manufacturer. J1698 also attempts to predict a wide-ranging set of data elements manufacturers may elect to record, such as turn signal switch position, heater vent position, horn application, windshield wiper activation, and more. While many data elements defined in the SAE document remain unutilized by any current manufacturer, based on the 2009 CDR vehicle coverage list, efforts to broaden the scope of recorded parameters appears to be gaining momentum. So for those involved in collision reconstruction and investigation, or for those seeking answers to questions relating to a specific vehicle event, the next few years promise to bring exciting and important EDR advances.

 

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