Accident reconstructionists such as Bloomberg Consulting use physical evidence as well as truck data to run computer simulations of accidents.
On a clear, dry day, one of your best drivers rear-ends a car in the middle lane of a six-lane highway. Police estimates and eyewitness accounts put the truck’s speed at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone and assert that your driver didn’t brake or steer to avoid the collision. But your driver insists that he was driving below the posted speed limit, that he braked properly and that he took all reasonable evasive maneuvers given fairly dense traffic in the left and right lanes. Plus, your driver claims that the motorist had been reckless and that his view of the car had been obscured by other vehicles.
You are facing a nasty lawsuit, but you have valuable tools at your disposal – data and lots of it. The engine’s electronic control module (ECM) tells you how fast the truck was traveling, when the driver braked and what some of his key actions had been in the minutes leading up to the accident. The onboard computer, which integrates ECM data with vehicle location and other data, corroborates your driver’s route and to some extent his speed and direction at the time of the accident. And because the truck was equipped with a collision avoidance system, you have data showing what the vehicles around your truck – including the car that was hit – were doing in the moments before the accident and at the time of impact.
This isn’t a hypothetical scenario. It’s an account of an actual crash, according to Chris Bloomberg of Bloomberg Consulting, an engineering, biomechanics and accident reconstruction firm. Because this carrier collected and retained all the data described above, Bloomberg says, it was able to confirm the truck driver’s version of events. Importantly, the carrier also was able to prove that the truck was governed at 57 mph at the time of the accident.
“This kind of data is a huge advantage for carriers,” Bloomberg says. “A lot of information on trucks can bolster your case. But everyone is leery of collecting it. They think the data will hurt them. But we don’t find that to be the case very often.”
“When we have an accident, we know immediately where we stand,” says Peter van Voorst, vice president of transportation for Clifford W. Perham Trucking, a subsidiary of New England-based Shaw’s Supermarkets. The company operates about 150 trucks equipped with Cadec’s Mobius TTS Mobile Information System. While Perham Trucking uses the system primarily to produce logs and track trucks, it also collects RPM and speed data from truck ECMs and combines that information with GPS data for the last three minutes leading up to a collision.
“Whenever we have an accident, we want to know how fast our guy was going,” van Voorst says. “That’s the first question that comes up in most accidents. You have it right there in real time. If you’re in the right, you know it.”
Dean Newell agrees. “If I’m in the right, I want to know I’m right,” says Newell, vice president of safety for Maverick Transportation. The company uses Eaton’s Vorad collision avoidance system, complete with its accident reconstruction feature, which records data in addition to alerting the driver to potential hazards. Maverick has used the Vorad system for three years, primarily to prevent accidents. But when an accident does occur, the company quickly can access down-to-the second data from a crash. “It’s helped us in a couple of situations. It let us know where we stood right up front.”
Odds are that this kind of data will point to a sequence of events that is more favorable to your company than the one the plaintiff would pose to a jury. Indeed, even AAA’s own research foundation concedes that a majority of truck-car collisions are the fault of the automobile driver.
But believe it or not, there are benefits to having data that confirms that your driver really was at fault. You promptly can learn the truth that likely would emerge from physical evidence anyway. You then might enter into negotiations over a fair settlement rather than risk a much higher judgment in court. Plus, you avoid the huge expense of accident investigation and litigation.
“They don’t have to spend all the money on lawyers to find out that they’re at fault,” says Les Dole, president of onboard computer developer Cadec.
Data everyone produces
The data typically used in accident investigations comes from ECMs related to the engine, brakes and other truck components systems; onboard computers that include vehicle locating; and collision warning systems.
Also of Interest »