2010 ARC-CSI conference

Jun 1, 2010 by

I just returned from this year’s ARC-CSI conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Monday was spent crashing cars and motorcycles into each other (more than a dozen this year!), and the other days were spent in presentations on various accident reconstruction topics plus analysis of Monday’s staged crashes.

As usual, the presentations were excellent.   Much of it was so specialized as to not be of interest to most of our readers, but there were three tidbits that I think are worth passing on.

The first was a presentation by two executives of OnStar.   In case you are not familiar, OnStar is a cellphone/GPS  based onboard communication system installed on most new General Motors products (with more than two million subscribers). It provides a host of features such as turn-by-turn navigation, hands-free phone calling, remote door unlock (useful when you are unloading the trunk and the dog steps on the button to lock all the doors) and so on.   Most of us are familiar with the feature that will call first responders in the event of an air bag deployment.   Two new features relate to vehicle thefts.   In the first one, if the owner reports to the police that their vehicle was stolen, and after that theft is properly verified, the next time the thief attempts to start the vehicle, the ignition is disabled by Onstar so that it will not start.   The second new feature is more exotic.   Since Onstar is a GPS based system, the stolen car broadcasts its location to Onstar.   Onstar relays this information to the police.   The police then intercept the vehicle and, when and only when it is safe, then give the signal to Onstar to disable the throttle.   OnStar does their magic, and the vehicle coasts to a stop.  The driver still has full control of the brakes and steering, but they do not have any response from the accelerator pedal.   One of the most hazardous of police pursuit situations is now defused: no more high-speed chases.

The second tidbit was about conspicuity and, in particular, how it relates to tractor trailers.   Large, heavy commercial vehicles have historically had a high number of accidents at night, many of which boil down to not being seen early enough by an overtaking vehicle.   Accordingly, laws were written to require a certain number of reflectors to outline their size and shape.   The problem with the reflectors is that they can only be seen within a fairly narrow angle. The next step by the lawmakers was to adopt the then-new technology of reflective tape.   This was a major improvement in that reflective tape has a much wider visibility angle.  Laws required certain placements, sizes, colors (white and red), and specified minimum reflectance values.   Fast forward to today-so how’s that working out?   Not so good. Three problems arise.   Dirt, as you would expect, reduces reflective values below the minimum thresholds.   Washing the tape scratches it, which also reduces reflectance.   Wash it a few dozen times, and you can be under the minimum reflective standards.   Plain old sunshine degrades the tape, so tape over seven years old needs to be replaced.   One major problem is that worn out tape looks okay in the daylight, so drivers are often unaware of the diminished or nonexistent reflectance.   The machine to measure tape reflectance is expensive, and removing/replacing tape is an arduous task.   Some studies of the number of big rigs fully meeting the minimum standards have concluded only one in four of the trucks out on the road pass the test.   That is a factor to consider if you work commercial crashes, and personally, a major factor to consider when you drive at night.

The final tidbit is about the latest must-have toy: the portable GPS.   Garmin, Tom-Tom et al have brought new meaning to the word “recalculating”. Focusing on Garmin in particular, we learned that the GPS software creates a log file every time that the user programs in a destination and starts driving.  Anywhere from 35 to 90 log files are typically saved, depending on the model, and then the oldest is overwritten by the newest.   This log file can be accessed using Garmin’s MapSource software.   Since it is GPS based, it gives time and location, as you would expect, but it also gives elevation and ground speed.   Waypoints are sampled/saved periodically (from one to forty seconds).   Therefore, you get a route map of your journey, complete with time and date as well as vehicle speeds.   If your insured was using a Garmin to get somewhere when he was involved in an accident, then his route history is now available to you.   Download it via the USB interface, and you can then verify his story.   The usual caveats apply, but this is a new tool that you might use, “When you need to know what Really happened…”

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