Article Post

Extracting Data from Vehicles to Describe What Really Happened

July 10, 2022

The advantages of EDR data in vehicle losses

The term “Black Box” has become popular because they’re used on planes to record specific data relating to all plane operations. The vehicular version of a Black Box is an Event Data Recorder (EDR). The primary purpose of an EDR in a passenger vehicle is to deploy the airbag system.

Similarly, the primary purpose of EDRs in trucks is to operate significant components such as the engine, the transmission, and the brake system. Their secondary features record specific events, such as hard stops and failures. Recently added features, mandated by the government, record conditions leading to the event.

This technology is designed to ensure that the vehicle is operating correctly. Additionally, we use these features and the recorded data in the software to answer questions after a loss occurs.

Figure 1: The position of an EDR in passenger vehicles.

EDRs are generally located centrally in a car. As shown in figure 1, the EDR is situated beside the handbrake between the front seats. It has a metal casing with two plugs and is bolted to the floor of the vehicle. EDRs are bolted to the vehicle because they have to measure the vehicle’s actions, including different velocity changes. These crucial components are made of metal to ensure they survive the average crash.

Figure 2: The typical locations of EDRs in trucks.

Trucks have multiple EDRs, one of which is bolted to the side of an engine. This EDR (figure 2) belongs to the engine manufacturer, and it’s supplied with the engine when the truck is made. The software inside is made to run the engine. However, it can record some crash parameters.

Figure 3: A common transmission controller.

In the circle (figure X) is a controller that is bolted to the top of a truck transmission. This component is supplied by the truck transmission manufacturer and is used to extract data for a file. In cars, we can extract data to indicate several parameters in the following:

EDR data that can be extracted in passenger vehicles

EDR information is routinely reviewed by manufacturers to address trends. General Motors used EDR data in their crucial switch recall investigations. Likewise, Toyota reviewed similar data when they investigated their floormat-to-peddle interference recall.

The recorders document the status of everything before, during, and after the crash. This is crucial data for adjusters and lawyers because it dramatically helps during claims and legal proceedings. Therefore, it tells a whole story of key actions inside the vehicle.

  • Vehicle speed – This is the basic information needed for most claims. You’re best positioned in your investigation when you know how fast the vehicle goes.
  • Fuel pedal position – This tells us if the driver had their foot on the gas and to what extent. It provides a percentage of how much the fuel was depressed at the time of the crash and leading up to it. Drivers often say they were driving cautiously, but the data might show a sudden acceleration.
  • Brake pedal position – This is extremely useful in losses when the insured claims they were slamming on the brakes. It records ignition on/off cycles. This data tells us how often the ignition was turned on and off. It helps us determine if there is a staged event or multiple accidents and verify the chain of events.
  • Seatbelt status – This simply tells us if the driver and the passenger were belted. Some cars even report the passenger’s weight to determine if it is an adult or a child.
  • Airbag Deployment – This data confirms whether the airbags have been deployed and tells us when in the event that happened in milliseconds.
  • Multiple crash events – The EDR records if multiple crashes took place. For example, if somebody got sideswiped first and hit another vehicle, those are different events in the recording.
  • Change in velocity – When the vehicle hits an object, the velocity change from driving to not driving is a piece of incredible information to add to an in-depth accident reconstruction. Biomechanics are going to find this invaluable information when they’re trying to evaluate the severity of injuries.

Data that can be extracted in trucks

Because trucks have several EDRs throughout the vehicle, data is a lot more specific. We can download data from each recorder, which explains each component and what it was doing independently. Then, we compile the data to explain the chain of events.

This is extremely important because the nature of truck losses can be more complex. They involve very different types of claimants and circumstances and are often very costly. Since trucks often transport goods and money, this introduces a different variable to the claim. For example, the commercial driver is evaluated on their driving performance. Therefore, the desire to falsely change internal settings on commercial EDRs increases when speed reporting can impact the driver financially.

Trucks have the potential to provide a lot more information. However, every truck is different and offers varying data types, depending on the manufacturer and specs. In passenger vehicle manufacturing, the car components are typically from the same brand, leading to fewer complexities. In contrast, commercial trucks often possess components from different manufacturers.

As different brands provide varying features, roll stability and ABS systems, buyers will likely have other brands manufacturing each component. They’re all very different and have their own software. The EDRs for these brands communicate in different languages native to their manufacturer. As such, there is no standard way the data was recorded in a component.

Only a few forensic engineering firms in Canada can communicate with all these brands, Origin and Cause being one of them. We invested considerably in software and training to ensure we can offer this service to our clients in-house.

How EDR data can help a claim investigation

EDRs provide facts about what took place before, during, and after the event, which ultimately helps the claim or litigation process. Not recovering this data is similar to ignoring a witness statement. EDRs are witnesses because they remember what happened. In fact, they are the most reliable, unbiased type of witnesses. Therefore, it is crucial to get this information as soon as possible upon receipt of a claim.

Data helps you control your claim administration better. We might identify third parties or find an immediate need to preserve vehicles. If you have liability exposure, this data alerts you to it right away. It allows investigators to verify facts and driver statements. The information available through data extraction is incredible and valuable.

The optimal time to download the data from an EDR is while it is still connected to the wiring in the vehicle. Our clients often call us immediately after the loss takes place and provide the precise location of the vehicle before it is scrapped. This enables visual confirmation of things like tire size and other mechanical aspects that paint a more vivid picture when interpreting the data.

Receiving a call too late after a loss weakens the claim because we cannot connect the physical details of the vehicle with recorded data. If the vehicle is gone, all we have is the data, which is less compelling when scrutinized. It is not absolutely useless information, but it has a different forensic strength than data verified through a physical examination.

For example, putting oversized tires on a vehicle (like a 4×4) could lead to incorrect speed data being reported in the EDR. Without a physical examination of the 4×4, it becomes impossible to calculate the actual vehicle speed. Therefore, it is crucial to get us involved in the investigation as soon as possible. This allows our investigators to extract the EDR data on site and conduct a physical examination to document attributes relevant to the data, such as tire size and gear ratios.

If the vehicle data belongs to a third party, it is important for adjusters to request access to that data as soon as possible. This ensures the preservation of the vehicle and EDRs if the vehicle has been discarded. Requesting access to the data immediately makes your interest known to the third party, encouraging them to preserve the evidence for you.

Figure 4: Data extraction from a passenger vehicle that was in a crash.

In the loss where figure X was captured, the car was totalled. However, our investigators could reconstruct the data wiring at the front of the vehicle and perform the extraction.

Data ownership

EDR technology is relatively new in Canada. Therefore, more guidelines will likely be developed within the next few years on this topic. Presently, the best practice is getting permission from the vehicle owner before extracting any data. This is mandatory in all our investigations.

The duration of investigations involving data extraction

It could take about a week to complete an investigation. The steps involve locating the vehicle, getting permission from the owner, going on-site to look at the vehicle, and conducting an investigation, which takes a few hours per EDR. Depending on the damage to the vehicle, we may have to reconstruct some wiring or provide power, for example. Then, we analyze the data to get an understanding of what really happened.

Sometimes, the client’s contact only needs the data extracted in case they need it in the future. This helps prepare clients for cases where there might be litigation two years later.

Required information from adjusters and lawyers involved in the claim administration

Once you realize that extraction is appropriate for the claim, you need to:

  • Secure the first-party vehicle right away. If two vehicles are in a crash, and they both record data, it would be really beneficial to have both data sets. Additionally, you should notify third parties of your interest in obtaining their data.
  • Contact a forensic expert and obtain permission from your insured to collect the data. If you would like us to collect data from a third-party vehicle, let us know once you have their permission.
  • Provide us with a notice of loss details, including an overview of what took place. The statements and photos you have on file provide great information we can validate with the EDR data.
Case Study 1: Coach bus collision

We were called to investigate a loss involving a new coach bus that drove into a highway cement barrier. The driver said his steering and brakes failed, which caused him to drive into the cement wall.

Examination of the mechanical components of the suspension, steering, and brakes revealed no faults in the bus. We then downloaded EDR data from the engine controller and found that the driver made no attempt to slow the vehicle down. He never lifted his foot off the fuel. In fact, the engine was under load, which means the driver was actually trying to gain speed on the onramp to the highway. The client determined from the interpreted data that the driver was likely texting and driving. This positioned the client to avoid a costly liability claim against them for not maintaining the bus.

Case Study 2: Coach bus collision II

In this case, we were asked to review data already downloaded by a mechanic. The client wanted verification that the extracted data was accurate. There was no additional information besides raw data taken from the engine controller.

The loss details were that municipal plows on the highway left the snowbank across the exit ramp during a snowstorm. Several cars attempting to cross that snowbank ended up in a collision. Our client’s bus drove into those vehicles, which caused the bus to flip. The client was subsequently approached with many third-party claims owing to multiple injuries during the collision.

Our client was mounting a defence against those claims and thought it would be a good idea to have a forensic expert review the data and provide an opinion. At face value, the data showed that the bus travelled at 85 km/h, which seemed like a responsible speed for the conditions. After a physical evaluation of the actual bus, we found a discrepancy between the components of the bus and what was programmed into the EDR. The gearing of the bus was falsely programmed, causing a misrepresentation of the speed of the bus.

Our interpretation of the differential tires and transmission data revealed that the bus travelled at 133 km/h, not 85.

Figure 5: A sample of audit trails in EDR data obtained from a similar case.

Often, drivers want to go faster than their speed governors allow. So, they change the gear programming, which tricks the EDR into thinking the vehicle is travelling at speed slower than it really is. This permits the driver to drive as fast as he wants.

The audit trails in EDR data provided the laptop ID. They identified the mechanic responsible for the false programming that allowed the bus to bypass its governed speed. This is further testament to the importance of acquiring and analyzing EDR data. It clearly indicated liability and guided our clients in their settlement strategy.

Case Study 3: Confused senior citizen

A senior citizen got confused and entered the off ramp of a major highway the wrong way. Unfortunately, efforts from oncoming traffic to warn the driver were unsuccessful, and he fatally met a semi-truck head-on. The truck fleet and insurer invited us to examine and document the truck and download the data. The information was saved and stored.

A year later, the truck company and their insurer received a claim from the deceased’s family, accusing the truck driver of failing to avoid or attempting to avoid the collision. The insurance company contacted us, and we interpreted the previously downloaded data. We complemented that EDR information with a road survey, mapping the truck’s travelling speed and distance backwards from the point of impact.

We could show that the truck driver applied the brakes as soon as the approaching car was in a line of sight. Our report was compelling, and the claim was withdrawn.

Case Study 4: Truck fire claim

In this case, an adjuster received a claim from a semi-truck owner. The claimant said he was pulling a loaded trailer on a major highway when he suddenly smelled smoke. He said the engine caught fire and burned the truck, trailer, and contents. He also helped the insurance company by having his tractor-trailer towed to his remote yard. He filed a claim a week after the reported data loss.

After the insurance company moved the vehicle to a secure yard, they called us to investigate. The truck was severely damaged. However, the EDR on the engine survived. Therefore, we recovered it and remotely extracted the data on a bench.

Figure 6: The extraction process of the burned EDR.

Although there was no crash event, the EDR recorded the last stop and data leading up to it. We discovered that the truck was only travelling about 40 km/h. It also accelerated, stopped, and moved without touching the brake or fuel pedals and had no engine load; it only idled. Even more interesting is that the clutch was depressed the entire time. This information indicated that something other than the engine was moving the vehicle.

This discovery led to an examination of the transmission. Our forensic investigators found that the transmission was broken. Hence, the clutch was pushed in. We could determine that the insured’s statement was false and that the truck was likely towed to a location and burned.

Case Study 5: Multi-million-dollar generator loss

A large standby diesel generator failed in a municipal building, and the claim dragged on for a long time when we received the case. Several parties involved in the installation were pointing fingers at each other. Still, it seemed like there was a piece of the puzzle missing.

Figure 7: The downloaded data.

Data from the engine had been downloaded at the time of the failure. However, it seemed to be dismissed, considered irrelevant, or misunderstood. Some trucks log every activity at two-hour. Our analysis of the data and the daily log of the engine activity revealed a major mechanical failure and patch job compared to recorded fault codes.

A deeper look into the service history determined a likely failure, which provided a successful defence for our client.

Case Study 6: Brand-new car malfunction

We received a call from an insurer advising that their insured had just gotten into an accident in a two-week-old car. The insured was travelling down a two-lane highway in the afternoon. The light ahead turned yellow, and she applied the brake to begin stopping. She said the vehicle would not stop. As a result, she drove into a pole to avoid the intersection and totalled her brand-new car.

The insured insisted that something was wrong with the car and that she was a good driver. The adjuster invited us to examine the car for defects. Our investigator recommended a download of the EDR data, which revealed that the car’s mechanical components were fine. In fact, they were still new.

The data showed that the insured released the fuel pedal and applied the brake well before the event, just like she said. However, the engine load increased as the engine worked to maintain the vehicle’s road speed. In essence, she was fighting the engine with her brake. Since there were no mechanical links to the throttle in newer vehicles, we concluded that a defect in the vehicle’s logic system led to the crash.

The cost of investigations involving data extraction

We have a standard equipment charge of $250 to offset the cost of software expenses and tooling on heavy trucks. On passenger vehicles, the cost is $150. Similar to any other investigation, some expenses are variable due to the vehicle’s location and other conditions unique to the case.

Conditions unique to each case may include:

  • How much reconstruction is needed?
  • The severity of the damage.

Some data extractions require reconstruction of the main part where the EDR is located, especially on heavy trucks. We may also extract data from multiple EDRs on trucks. Therefore, some extractions can be more time-consuming than others. Generally, data extractions with mechanical inspections can vary between $2,500 and $5,000.