I see – that’s a problem

by William Sommers

Fully Accredited Traffic Accident Reconstructionist (ACTAR #268)

Editor’s note: The following article was written for Gold Wing magazine, and bears reprinting.

“But officer, I…I didn’t see him. I just didn’t see him”. In my 30+ years of investigating accidents for two Southern California law enforcement agencies, as well as my own private practice, I have heard something like the previous statement a hundred times. I am an ACTAR accredited traffic accident reconstructionist, and a NHTSA certified police Drug Recognition Expert, and I have looked at all or part of over 10,000 accidents in the past 30 years. A recurring theme is a driver stating that he/she failed to see the other party.

Just what is this thing, “seeing”, anyway? Think about it for a minute. We all have said at some point or another that we either did, or did not see something, but can we actually describe what “seeing” is? There are several medical books on the subject, but traffic accident reconstructionists use a more simplistic approach to the subject. The reconstruction community, to a large extent, relies upon research done by Dr. Paul Olson of the University of Michigan. Dr. Olson’s book Forensic Aspects of Driver Perception and Response, along with his S.A.E. paper on the subject, is a corner stone for determining just what one “sees”.

Without getting technical, let’s consider the eye, and its nerve attachments, to be much like a simple digital camera. Light reflects off objects, is focused through a lens, and is pin-pointed onto a sensitive plane where the individual photons are converted into an image of what we, or the camera, is looking at. Since we are looking at visible light, and visible light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, light must obey the same laws as radio, microwave, and other parts of the spectrum. One of these rules is the law of inverse proportions.

An example of this law is as follows: suppose at night you had a light source (headlight), and its beam was falling upon a guy walking 100 feet away. Let’s further assume that there’s now a gal walking 200 feet away and you want to see her with the same brightness that you saw the guy. Just doubling the number of headlights won’t do, you’d have to quadruple the number of headlights. Brightness diminishes as an inverse function of the square of the distance, so an object twice as far away would be only one-fourth as bright, three times as far away is just one-ninth as bright and four times as far away is one-sixteenth as bright.

Couple this with a dirty headlamp lens, dirty windshield, dirty glasses, and, heaven forbid, tinted eyeglass lenses or visor, and we have a recipe for disaster. The State of California even prohibits the wearing of the goggles some of our older drivers wear over their glasses. Vehicle Code §23120 specifically states that glasses with temple widths over ½ inch cannot be worn, so as to preserve lateral vision. The state is serious about people’s vision.

Most of the people reading this piece are Gold Wing operators, and many of us “Wingers” will never see 50 years of age again. This presents a problem with “seeing”. When we were a lot younger, our eyes would dilate to about 6.5 mm. The NHTSA uses a normal range of 2.5 mm to 6.5 mm in the DRE (Drug Recognition Expert) program. Some young, blond, blue eyed persons will dilate to over 7 `mm. When we reach 50 or so, that is no longer the case. Our eyes simply do not dilate as they used to.

I recently had Lasic surgery and, try as he would, my doctor could not dilate my eyes over 5.5 mm. This is typical of us who are older than about 50 years of age. What this means is that if your eyes used to open to their full 6.5 mm potential, they now admit only 71% of the light they used to admit. Have you found yourself carrying a paper over to a window to get more light or turning on more lights because you just couldn’t quite make out the text you were trying to read? This same problem will hold true if you are driving at night. Your eyes don’t open up as wide, and they don’t admit as much light, and you will miss some of the objects on the road.

Other terms we in our business use, and they sure apply to motorcycle riders, are : conspicuity, contrast, and expectation. Conspicuity is defined as “Those characteristics of an object or condition that determine the likelihood that it will come to the attention of the observer “ (Olson). He goes on to say that the fact that something is in the field of vision does not mean that it will be detected. The problem with conspicuity goes up as the surrounding information (clutter) goes up, such as signs, pedestrians, other traffic, and other items that would distract a driver.

We as riders must make ourselves as conspicuous as possible. We must also look for conspicuity in other things as we ride. Contrast is pretty much what its name implies. White on black, movement against a still background, these add up to contrast, and contrast adds to conspicuity.

Expectation is a condition a driver can assume to be the case or fact. Imagine, for a minute, that you are on a 70 mph freeway (75 for Arizonians). Would you expect the traffic around you to be going at about that rate? Sure, there will be some speeders, but would youexpect to see a vehicle stopped dead on the road in front of you? Would you expect to see a vehicle moving at 10 or 15 MPH on the road ahead of you? Of course not, and that leads us to another part of “seeing”. If an object is of a certain size when you perceive it, it will double in size as you get to a point halfway to the object. It will double in size again as that distance is cut in half. If you are not expecting to see a car stopped in front of you, some time may elapse before you realize, “Hey, this thing is not moving”. If you have your 50+ eyes, it is dark, you have tinted lenses, and a dirty headlamp and windshield, you may not have enough time to avoid a collision, whether you are driving a car or your motorcycle.

Normal perception and reaction time is generally thought of as being about 1.5 seconds for non-anticipatory response. Multiply your speed by 2.2 and this will give you the distance you need at that speed just to get your foot on the brake, but not yet begin the braking process. 30 MPH is 66 feet, 50 MPH is 110 feet, and so on. Central Nervous System depressants really mess with perception and reaction. One of the most used (abused) CNS depressants is Ethyl Alcohol. Everybody knows not to drink and drive, and not to drive when using tranquilizers and other such medications, but I will bet each and everyone of us has driven after using Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride. This is the sleep aid found in night-time pain killers and is used for colds, allergies, motion sickness, insomnia, and Parkinson’s Disease. Another name for it is Benadryl©. This medication is grossly abused, because people just do not know how powerful a CNS depressant it is. A test was done in Iowa where a number of test subjects were dosed to .10% blood alcohol, and a battery of tests were done to determine their impairment. The subjects were sent home and, after all the alcohol was gone from their systems, they were dosed to a therapeutic level of Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride and tested again.

A majority of the test subjects did more poorly with the over-the-counter drug than they did with the alcohol.

You can now understand that “seeing” is comprised of several components. We cannot control what other drivers see or do, except to keep our lighting in working order, to wear clothing that reflects, rather than absorbs light, and be alert to their movements. We can, however, keep our own equipment in peak operating shape, and we can realize our own strong, and not-so-strong points. If we need some kind of lens to reduce glare, don’t use sunglasses, as they will reduce the level of all of the light entering the eye. I have found that the amber lens used by shooters reduces the night-time glare (I have had some trouble with glare after the eye surgery), and it brightens up the scene to a point quite acceptable to good vision. I have realized that I’m not a kid anymore and, while I want to ride my bike as long as the good Lord will let me, I will modify my operation to fit the abilities I have or no longer have. Vanity is out the window here; this guy is not going to try to leap tall buildings in a single bound. I’ll just get on my bike and ride it. I hope that you will “see” that we can control to a large extent what, and how, we perceive things on the road and learn to make the proper adjustments…Ride safe.

Transponders bypassed?

Guest Article: Transponders Bypassed?
by Thomas G. Seroogy,
Certified Forensic Locksmith

A 2005 VW Passat was reported stolen and was soon recovered. The steering column had been attacked, and the wiring on the back of the ignition switch was pulled off. The insured stated that law enforcement had told him the wires were pulled off of the ignition lock and hotwired to start and steal the vehicle. A forensic examination of the ignition lock and immobilizer system proved otherwise, and it was determined that the damaged wiring could not have been used to start the vehicle and was cosmetic in nature.

Every year this author conducts hundreds of forensic examinations on stolen-recovered vehicles that contain transponder-based immobilizer systems. Each of these examinations begs the question, “Was the immobilizer system bypassed and, if so, how?”

Before this question is answered, it must be stated that a transponder system is not impervious to attack and can, in fact, be bypassed.

In theory, the transponder-based immobilizer system is fairly simple. The system is comprised of a transponder key, a transceiver module/antenna, and the security module (usually located in the Engine Control Module, Powertrain Control Module, or Body Control Module).

The registered transponder key is inserted into the ignition and rotated to the ON position. Then the transceiver antenna, usually attached to the front of the lock, sends an inductive pulse to the transponder chip located in the head of the key. This pulse excites the transponder, which in turn sends the key’s unique digital ID back to the transceiver antenna. Upon receiving the key’s ID, the transceiver may confirm whether it is a registered key, or send it to the security module for interrogation. If the key’s ID is recognized, the vehicle is allowed to start and operate. If it is not recognized, the engine will not start.

This is a very simplified explanation of how the transponder system operates. The actual operations and characteristics of a given system are dependent on the year, make, and manufacturer of the vehicle.

There are two main categories of methods for defeating a transponder system: hard bypass methods and soft bypass methods.

Hard bypass methods circumvent the immobilizer by physically altering the system. Relay jumping and module swapping are examples of hard bypass techniques commonly used to steal early Ford, Toyota, Lexus, Acura, and Honda vehicles. In other words, the transponder hardware is physically replaced by the thief.

Soft bypass methods electronically circumvent the immobilizer system. These techniques either turn off the immobilizer system, create unauthorized programmed keys, or introduce information into the system that disarms the immobilizer function.

Due to advancements in immobilizer technology, relay jumping and module swapping are not efficient methods for stealing today’s vehicles. However, where advancements in immobilizer technology have made hard bypass techniques difficult to use, corresponding advancements in electronics have made soft bypass techniques more efficient and effective, even for the car thief.

Currently, there are four basic genres of soft bypass techniques: key programming, key cloning, factory bypass, and code stealing.

Recent research indicates that code stealing is especially effective on keyless entry cars.  This technique uses an antenna to read the signal from the key fob when it is out of the car (say in a pocket while the driver is at a restaurant). The captured signal is then relayed back to the car, just as if the key fob was within disarming distance.  The car is then started and driven away without the key fob.

Factory bypass is a method built into some models by the manufacturers as a way to rescue vehicles stranded by failed transponder systems, or lost keys. A bypass procedure, that includes entering a PIN, is performed to start the car, using just a mechanical key.  As you can imagine, thieves can use various methods to obtain the PINs, and then steal the cars.  Honda, Acura, Mitsubishi, and Ferrari are among those that include PIN bypass procedures.

Cloning a key is the electronic equivalent of duplicating a key. During the process of making a cloned key, both the mechanical cuts and the electronic ID of a working key are transferred to a new key. Being a direct duplicate or clone of the original working key, the cloned key is capable of starting and operating the vehicle without further programming.

Because cloning a key requires possession of a working key, the proper clone key blank, a cloning device, key cutting equipment, and, in some cases, the vehicle, its use to steal a vehicle might be limited. However, using a cloned key to steal vehicles is not unheard of, and should not be ignored or ruled out without cause by the auto theft investigator.

Of the soft bypass techniques available, the one presenting the most potential for quickly stealing an automobile is that of programming a new key into the vehicle using a transponder key programming tool and then either picking, force rotating, or extracting (such as with a slide hammer) the lock cylinder of the ignition assembly.

The most common aftermarket key programming tools sold in North America are Ilco’s TKO and Advanced Diagnostics’ T-Code Pro. More recently, there has been a surge of Asian-produced key programming tools on the market. These tools offer similar capabilities as the TKO and T-Code Pro, but are less expensive (from $300 to $800) and can be purchased over the Internet.

One of the interesting, and dangerous, characteristics of these tools is that they are capable of circumventing the key programming security features of most North American transponder systems. In essence, in the hands of a trained and experienced technician, these tools render the transponder system impotent, allowing the vehicle to be stolen in little more time than it takes to steal a vehicle without an immobilizer. Bypassed vehicles include Acura/Honda, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan/Infiniti, Subaru, Toyota/Lexus, and VW/Audi.

In light of the potential these tools have in stealing vehicles, it becomes extremely important that the auto theft investigator closely follow immobilizer and transponder key programming tool trends. Whether an investigation is focused on a chop shop, organized crime ring, or an individual, tool identity is an invaluable asset.

Finally, the good news is that despite the ability these tools have in bypassing the immobilizer system, their use is not invisible to a qualified forensic locksmith or security technician. Their use often leaves evidence behind for investigators to detect. In many cases, a properly trained examiner will be able to identify whether such programming tools were used in the theft of a stolen-recovered car.

A disc bulge

Some readers gave us feedback from last month’s Garagram.   Thank you, for this helps us to know what is effective and what is not.

In particular, for some readers, we missed the mark in explaining what really happened.   Accordingly, I’ll try again, from a different direction.

To start out, let me review the scientific method.  As the judge said to Perry Mason, “Where are you going with this?”   I’m laying a foundation for later discussion.   The scientific method starts with a hypothesis, an unproven theory.   The scientist then proposes an experiment to validate the hypothesis. If the theory is correct, then the experiment will have the predicted outcome.

When the scientist conducts his experiment and the results support the hypothesis, he publishes those results.   Other scientists are invited to repeat the experiment to prove the point.   When a large group of scientists have achieved the same result, they generally accept the hypothesis as fact.  It is no longer just a theory, now you have a consensus.

Now if someone later conducts the same experiment and gets a different result, then that disproves the hypothesis.   Note that this scientific method can never absolutely verify a theory, but it can falsify a theory.   As Albert Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

In forensic investigations we deal with historical events that cannot be scientifically repeated in exactly the same way they originally occurred.  Historical events have dozens of known variables  (most non-repeatable) and thousands of unknown variables.   Having said that, we have a problem as the insurance and legal industries require an answer as to the mechanism of causation.   Ascribing causation must therefore be made by individuals with training and experience in that field of the particular loss.   This is why we hire experts.

When an expert expresses an opinion about causation, it is based upon his observations of the particular failure and how the characteristics of this particular failure match those of other failures that he has seen in his professional career.  He does not say “This, with absolute certainty, was the mechanism of the failure”.    He does say, “My expert opinion of the failure was …”   He is correct in his opinion, if he was given all the data and he acted in a diligent, unbiased, and truthful manner.

Now let us return to last month’s case.  In this situation, the insured’s vehicle struck the claimant’s vehicle. The claimant filed for permanent disability due to lower back pain.   GEI was retained to review and comment on the claimant’s MRI, which was submitted in support of the permanent disability claim.

Our PhD biomechanist produced a seven page report to the client, which was heavily edited to become the page and a half of the Garagram.

At no point did we say that the claimant was not in pain.   We did not say that he was not permanently disabled.   We did not, in any way, say that he was faking.

What we did say, was that the injuries that were exhibited were not caused by this single auto accident.   So what was that based upon?

This opinion was based upon the review of the MRI, the training and experience of the expert, and a review of applicable studies done by dozens of researchers on disk bulge causation.

Hundreds of theories have been proposed and scientifically tested to answer the question, “How do discs fail?” The scientific literature is rich with studies on this topic.

The consensus is that when you put enough force on a disc, in a single event, to cause it to rupture, you will also discover that the surrounding bones will break before the disc ruptures.  Several of the studies that support this consensus were referenced in the paper.

So what does cause a disc to rupture?   Many scientific studies demonstrate that repetitive overloading will rupture discs, (hence, the many bad backs of people who spent 20 years carrying heavy loads).   We also know that a large percentage of the population have disc bulges with no clear causation mechanism.  Many of them are asymptomatic, which is to say, that even though they have disc bulges, they are pain free and have a full range of motion.

Returning to the case at hand, the biomechanist opinion was that the observed injuries (the disc bulges shown in the MRI) were not the result of the single auto accident.

Did the accident make him feel worse?   Most likely, but that was not the question we were asked. We were asked, “Did this specific auto accident cause the disc bulges?”

The answer was no.

A conflict of interest

Vice-President’s Message: A Conflict of Interest
by Pax Starksen

Occasionally, we receive case assignments where all of the parties to the matter have not been identified.   Later we can receive another case assignment from a different client, which involves the same incident, but with different names.   If this conflict is undiscovered, it can result in your expert becoming disqualified and you being poorly served.

Garrett Engineers has a computerized system that, for each new case, automatically cross-checks the names of the parties, file and claim numbers, and the date of loss against this same data for existing cases.   However, that system depends upon a complete knowledge of all the parties and an accurate description of the location involved.

Of course, all the parties and the exact location may not be known immediately, but both the client and the expert assigned should be vigilant in identifying additional parties, as they become apparent, and informing all interested parties to update their records.

An additional factor is that different clients may be requesting different areas of expertise, and thus the expert(s) may not be aware of the other’s involvement.

As an example, I was involved in a case where a semi-trailer was parked at a warehouse facility.

The landing gear of the trailer was placed upon unusually soft pavement, which caused their wheels to sink into the ground.  The trailer then tipped over onto a parked car next to it.

Our original assignment involved the driver of the truck, the property damage to the trailer and its contents, the trucking company that owned the truck, and the loading dock company where the trailer was parked.   No mention was made of the parked car.   The case was investigated, an opinion formed, the report was written to address the assignment, and then the case was closed.

Our second assignment, received six months later, from a different client, involved the occupants of the parked car, and the owner of the real estate where the incident occurred.   He had a different address (on a different street) than the actual loading dock address.

The assignments called for different experts, and it was only through Garrett Engineers’ vigilance and internal communication that the potential conflict was discovered.

Again, both our clients and experts are urged to keep GEI fully advised with respect to all parties involved.