Reading Data

April 2lst 2005

In November of 2002 I was part of a small group which included Darry Stuart and Jack Mears (two long-time truck industry activists) that was invited to Detroit by the Detroit Diesel Corporation to be trained on DDEC and Mercedes Benz engine data recorders for proper downloading and data interpretation procedures.

The result of the training sessions was a letter from Detroit Diesel sent to all Detroit Diesel distributors in the U.S. and Canada.

In this letter Detroit Diesel states: "Since the ECM is the property of the vehicle owner, it is recommended that the distributor obtain proof of ownership of the vehicle and engine, and written consent to examine, interpret and report on infomation that may be found in the ECM. A court order or search warrant may preclude the requirement for proof of ownership and permission. When the download is completed, it may be given to the owner.

"Over the past few years, the demand for electronic data extractions and analysis has increased because of a heightened awareness of its capabilities in the reconstruction of highway vehicle accidents, especially with respect to driving speed patterns and hard braking events."

Since my initial involvement with the Detroit Diesel DDEC technology two issues come to mind that I think prudent to discuss with your suppliers when it comes to on-board data recorders or other technologies that involve or track the operation of commercial vehicles.

First of all, it may be wise for you to identify (if you have not already done so) and periodically review your ECM data storage, data extraction and analysis policies and procedures. Do you have these policies and procedures in writing? Have they been communicated to your dispatch, driver and maintenance group? Did your risk management and legal
departments play a role in this process?

If you ever have a vehicle involved in an accident, especially where a fatality is involved, you will be thankful that you had procedures in place and communicated properly to your whole organization, especially after the attorneys get through with you (no matter if you are the plaintiff or thc defendant).

What about the aftermarket technology that is constantly being pitched by suppliers to you or your company executives? Do you know what their policies are in regard to data storage, data extraction and analysis policies and procedures and how this may affect your organization in the event of an accident involving a fatality? Perhaps when purchasing technology it would be wise to request in writing the OEM or supplier policies in regard to these issues.

You may well wonder how secure these aftermarket technologies are. For me, this question manifests itself in a recent news article about computer viruses spreading into vehicle infomation systems.

The article reported on a security company in Russia that had been hired to "disinfect" the onboard computers of several Lexus automobiles. The report concluded, rather alarmingly, that the computer infection was most likely transmitted to the vehicles by way of a mobile phone, using Bluetooth technology as a carrier.

Perhaps we are "comparing apples to oranges" in this instance of acquiring a virus in the onboard computer of a private vehicle. But, obviously it can and did happen to a private vehicle. Now. what about the same happening to a commercial vehicle?

For me, this raises questions in regard to the integrity of the "Black Box."

After all, one only has to read another recent news report about a dispute between a police accident report and a truck‘s vehicle data recorder to see the data integrity issue become extremely important.

Unfortunately, in an accident resulting in the death of a law enforcement officer in Tennessee, the authorities came to very different conclusions about what happened in this accident, quite contrary to a witness statement and what the data recorder on the engine recorded.

So, how could the authorities from Tennessee come to such a different conclusion from that what was recorded by the data recorder on the engine?

After all, witness testimony, governed speed of the truck as identified in the ECM and brake activity by the driver as recorded by the ECM appear to tell a different story from that of the authorities.

Perhaps someone can explain these discrepancies to the driver ofthe truck (and his family) who (at the time of the article) remained in jail with bail set at $3 million.