Yuri A. Apel, BSEE, MSEM, Senior Electrical/ Automotive Engineer
Personal transportation of yesterday and tomorrow.
For the past 100-plus years, the automobile has been rapidly evolving and by nature has become more complex. The mechanical components which have been passed down over the years are now taking a back seat to the electronic powered devices that control most of the vehicle functions. The term “drive-by-wire” has become commonplace in new vehicles as it relates to the way that acceleration, braking, and steering are controlled. This list is constantly growing. Those old linkages that used to clutter up the engine bay are now replaced by a few thin wires. Introduce a few cameras and sophisticated infotainment systems that are heavily integrated into the vehicle and are capable of semi-autonomy and we begin to scratch the surface.
The complexity of these new systems reminds us that we must still focus on the basics during a forensic inspection. The current vehicle inspection related to an accident focuses on the things that make it go, stop, turn, and behave as the driver would expect when controlling the accelerator and brake pedals, steering wheel, and all other functions. The fact that bald or worn tires are detrimental to a vehicle’s stopping performance remains the same. No matter the technology in between the steering wheel and the front wheels, when the steering wheel is turned, the front wheels must still react accordingly.
The game changer to our investigations is the growing use of automated driving systems and features. Cameras, radar and other sensors communicate with the onboard vehicle computers to determine what action to take when driver input has less weight to the decision that these autonomous systems are making or no longer becomes part of the equation at all.
It is important to understand if the vehicle in question has any of these features and if so, what settings are these features set to as to allow the vehicle to have more and more intervention during driving and emergency situations. Is the vehicle capable of stopping on its own, and are you giving it permission to do so? When presented with an obstacle, is the vehicle autonomously avoiding that obstacle by turning the wheel for you? These technological systems are evolving faster than ever and understanding how they work is paramount when the question of “who is at fault” arises.
Yuri A. Apel, BSEE, MSEM, Senior Electrical/ Automotive Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.