The Truth About Cars » Event Data Recorder The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:30:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Event Data Recorder Piston Slap: Reading the Light Bulb Filaments Wed, 30 Jan 2013 12:01:14 +0000

TTAC commentator Celebrity208 writes:

I’d always thought that police crash investigators would check the tail light bulbs of a car that was rear ended to determine if its lights were on at the time of the crash. I thought it had something to do with the way the filament was broken/burnt/etc. So my question is two-fold, am I crazy and do they do this, and if so how might LED tail lights remove this piece of forensic evidence regarding correctly operating brake lights at the time of an accident (presuming the fault was contested)?

Sajeev answers:

Hi Clayton! You are not crazy (I hope) but I doubt the Police check the tail lights/brake lights in some sort of CSI operation for car accidents. For two reasons:

  1. The wear from cold or hot “restrikes” of a tail light bulb’s filaments probably don’t tell much, other than their remaining lifespan. And once the vehicle crashes, well the evidence could be destroyed. Headlights, however, are a different story.
  2. Why bother with this when we have event data recorders?

Here’s a list (unverified for accuracy) of late-model vehicles with EDRs.  Basically any vehicle with an OBD-II computer (1996-present) is capable of recording a metric ton of data as to your driving habits.  Combine this 1990s advancement with the ancient technology of the brake light switch and you’ll know exactly what was going on before the accident.  Why bother looking downstream (light at the back of the car) when you see the source upstream (at the brake pedal assembly)?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

This talk of lighting filaments always takes me back to a core truth of automobile ownership: check the filaments on your (Halogen) headlights!

If the chrome plated(?) looking finish on those tiny wires isn’t flawless, replace the bulbs. In pairs!  Life is too short to risk it all on $20-30 worth of new bulbs, as they degradate so slowly that a visual inspection of the chrome plating is the cheapest and easiest way to ensure your nighttime driving safety.  I’ve seen 2-year-old vehicles in dire need for new bulbs!  So it happens, and you better do something about it.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Confirmed: WSJ Writes Nonsense About Toyota EDR Amnesia. Jalopnik In Same League As WSJ Fri, 16 Jul 2010 11:11:07 +0000

Welcome to amateur hour. As reported yesterday, The Wall Street Journal claimed in a story that Toyota’s “data recorders can lose their information if disconnected from the car’s battery or if the battery dies—as could happen after a crash.” Their source was “a person familiar with the situation.” Commentator Carquestions concluded that the source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. After we wrote about it, Carquestions fingered the not so knowledgeable source as “a secretary within Media Relations at the DOT.”

Instead of talking to a secretary, the WSJ could have done what we did: Call Toyota headquarters in Tokyo. It took TMC spokesman Paul Nolasco less than 10 minutes to round up an engineer, and to confirm to TTAC that Toyota’s “EDRs use non-volatile memory.” For the non-nerds: Non-volatile memory doesn’t lose the information when the battery dies. Remove the battery from your cell phone. Put it back in. Your phonebook, your messages and pictures of questionable nature will still be there. Non-volatile memory in action.

As Carquestions also correctly points out, the U.S. code for EDRs (to come into effect in 2012) specifies that “data recorded in non-volatile memory is retained after loss of power and can be retrieved with EDR data extraction tools and methods.”

Now nobody forces Toyota to comply with a code that isn’t in effect yet. To extinguish any lingering doubt, Nolasco said: “Our EDRs are designed to retain their memory even after they are disconnected from an electric power source.”

Why did the WSJ rely on “people familiar with the findings”, and not on the people familiar with the Event Data Recorder? Why are anonymous sources used if people who can lose their job if they talk nonsense are ready to answer a simple question? Why did the WSJ even print a story that was old hat as readers of the Financial Times know?

You think the story ends here? No, it doesn’t.

Yesterday, another story was floated: The British site Just-auto reported that the Wall Street Journal story was “planted by Toyota.” Just-auto even found a source for that assertion, an unnamed “NHTSA spokeswoman in Washington” that supposedly said: “That story was planted by Toyota. Toyota is the source – yes we know that for definite.” Jalopnik ran a similar story, claimed they “spoke with a NHTSA employee (who wished to remain nameless)” and said that they “received a somewhat similar response.” Why does it smell like Jalopnik called absolutely nobody, and simply cribbed the Just-auto rumor? And why does it appear as if Just-auto talked to the same ditzy secretary that had never heard of non-volatile memory?

The big story (driver error) wasn’t planted by Toyota. It had been told by Daniel Smith and Richard Boyd of NHTSA weeks ago, and was just warmed-over by WSJ. And why should Toyota plant a story of  EDRs with Alzheimer’s, and then go on record today and say the opposite? Just-auto claimed that “Toyota in Tokyo could not be reached for comment.” Well, if you forget that Tokyo is 8 hours ahead of Bromsgrove, Worcs., no wonder nobody will pick up the phone. Friendly tip to Just-auto: When it’s noon in Bromsgrove, it’s 8 in the evening in Toyko, and even the worst workaholics are on their way home or in a Ginza bar.

This turns into a C-movie, a really bad one.  Secretaries usually don’t comment about Data Recorders. A government agency usually doesn’t accuse a company of planting a story. Wall Street Journal reporters usually call the other side for confirmation. People usually look at their watch when calling other continents. Someone is desperately trying to keep a story alive that had been dead at the get-go. May we ask that this is done with a bit more finesse?

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What’s Wrong With Toyota’s Black Boxes? Fri, 19 Feb 2010 01:17:02 +0000

At the Wednesday press conference in Tokyo, Toyota slipped in the remark that they “will more actively use on-board event data recorders, which can, in the event of a malfunction, provide information necessary for conducting such activities as technological investigations and repairs.”

This remark was widely overlooked. It should not have been.

Five days before, the Wall Street Journal had written:

“The safety problems that have engulfed Toyota Motor Corp. are focusing renewed attention on one of the most controversial components in an automobile: the black box. The box, officially called an “event data recorder,” is a small, square, virtually indestructible container akin to those found on commercial airplanes. Tucked inside the dash or under the front seats of most newer vehicles, it records vehicle and engine speeds as well as brake, accelerator and throttle positions and other data that can help determine the causes of accidents.”

If there would have been such a black box in the Toyotas that had crashed, it would have been easy to read out whether the foot was on the gas or on the brake. Guess what: Toyota has this box. It had been in many of the crashed vehicles, says the Wall Street Journal:

“Toyota, like Japanese peers Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., has a proprietary black-box system, and it says the data it collects isn’t intended or capable of accident reconstruction because it is only recorded for a short duration—about one second. The system mainly monitors the performance of a vehicle’s safety devices, such as air bags, seat belts and, in some cases, throttle application. Toyota says there is no rule or legislation that requires otherwise until a new NHTSA rule comes into effect later in the decade.”

One would think that Toyota is pouring over the contents of its data recorders to prove that nothing more serious than a loose carpet or a missing metal shim creates mayhem in their cars. Instead, Toyota seems to have strange troubles with its proprietary system, as chronicled by the Wall Street Journal:

- On Nov. 27, 2009, 55-year-old Barbara A. Kraushaar drove through three Auburn, NY, downtown stoplights at high speed and crashed into another vehicle, killing its driver, Colleen Trousdale. Says the WSJ: “According to the Auburn police, an investigator from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration arrived in town and took the Camry’s data recorder, saying he planned to take it to California, where Toyota has its U.S. headquarters, so their expert could download the data.” Auburn Police never heard from Toyota, says the WSJ. Also “NHTSA didn’t reply to requests for comment on the Auburn incident.”

- “In 2007, Bulent Ezal was pulling into the parking lot of a cliffside restaurant in Pismo Beach, Calif., when his 2005 Camry surged, went over the bluff and crashed on rocks 70 feet below. Mr. Ezal, 75, survived, but his wife, who was in the passenger seat, was killed.” Police could find no mechanical fault, and concluded that Ezal was at fault. Ezal’s Lawyer, Donald Slavik, has been trying to get data from the car’s black box for nearly three years. He was told by Toyota that the data would only be provided if Mr. Slavik got a court to order the company to do so. Later, Toyota told the lawyer “the data in the black box was unusable.”

- “On Dec. 26, Monty Hardy, 56, was driving three passengers in his 2008 Toyota Avalon on Lonesome Dove Drive in Southlake, Texas, when the car ran through a stop sign at about 45 mile per hour, crashed through a fence, struck a tree and landed upside down in a pond, according to a police report. All four occupants were killed… After the crash, investigators from NHTSA and Toyota’s black-box expert flew to Texas to join police in searching for the cause of the accident. They found the black box in the car covered in muck from the pond. According to police reports, the Toyota investigator tapped into the box and said the only data it contained was the difference in the speed of the car immediately before and after hitting the fence and the tree.”

- A black box was in the 2009 Lexus ES350, driven by Mark Saylor, a 45-year-old California Highway Patrol officer. He and three members of his family were killed when their vehicle hit speeds exceeding 120 mph and crashed. The 911 call made by one of the family members was on all the airwaves. In an answer to the questions of the LA Times, Toyota said :“Toyota agreed to perform a readout of the EDR in the Saylor vehicle. In the presence of representatives of all interested parties and the Sheriff’s department, Toyota attempted to perform the readout as agreed. However, due to the extensive damage to the EDR unit from the crash, it was impossible to perform a readout.”

Is the black box technology in such an early stage of development that there is only one prototype readout tool, as Toyota said to the LA Times, and that it is so hard to retrieve conclusive data? asked an interested reader with 20 years experience in automotive safety components and recall investigation to give us an update on the state of the black box art. Here is his report:

Event Data Recorder Access: What Is Toyota Hiding Behind Its Black Box?

For almost a decade, the increasing sophistication and interconnectedness of the electronically-controlled devices and systems in passenger vehicles has offered the opportunity to collect and store ample data for post-crash accident investigation.

Since the late 1990′s, individuals have participated in DOT-sponsored workgroups with the aim of developing industry guidelines (e.g. IEEE & SAE) for and advising government rule-makers on EDR-related topics. Represented were the US and Canadian governments, EDR suppliers, universities, the insurance industry, and certain OEM’s, among them GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, VW, Honda and Toyota.

According to an August 2001 report from the workgroup, “The results of a NHTSA-sponsored engineering analysis show that EDR data can objectively report real-world crash data and therefore be a powerful investigative and research tool, by providing very useful information to crash reconstructionists and vehicle safety researchers. Due to significant limitations however, EDR data should always be used in conjunction with other data sources.”

The types of data that can be captured and stored are limited only by the available sensors, integration into a vehicle-communication protocol (i.e. CAN-BUS or Flex-Ray), software-design, computing power, and available memory. At the time of the NHTSA report (2001), GM’s EDRs were already capable of the following:

Capture: State of the driver’ belt, vehicle speed, engine RPM, “brake odoff,” and throttle position;

Transmit and Input: The driver seat belt switch signal is typically input into the SDM, while the remaining sensors are monitored by one or more other electronic modules that broadcast data according to a “send on change” based design (e.g. a change in engine speed of more than 32 RPM, broadcasts the new RPM value on the serial bus).

Store, archive, update and recover: In airbag deployment or a near-deployment crashes, the last 5-seconds of data are stored in an EEPROM (recoverable with appropriate PC-based equipment.) This means, every second, the SDM takes the most recent sensor data values and stores them in a recirculating buffer (RAM), one storage location for each parameter for a total of 5-seconds. When the airbag sensing system “enables” on impact, buffer refreshing is suspended;

Certain 1999 models had this capability, and almost all GM vehicles were expected to add that capability over the next few years.

Compare where GM was in 1999, with the claims found by the L.A. Times on the Toyota website. Toyota’s EDR’s are capable of recording data including, among other things, brake pedal application and degree of application of the accelerator pedal.

On the side of reading data out of EDR’s, in 2000, the Robert Bosch Corporation developed their CDR (Crash Data Retrieval) unit. Many models by GM (1994), Ford (2001), Chrysler (2005) and Nissan (2007) have the capability for crash-event data to be stored in their proprietary EDR’s, and to be freely retrieved by licensed 3rd parties via a Bosch CDR unit.

While the Bosch CDR units can be freely purchased and used, and training and support is widely available through Bosch, in North America, Toyota takes a totally opposite posture. Toyota appears to engage in practices intended to limit access to the data recorded by Toyota’s EDRs.

Contrast the situation surrounding the OEM’s above with Toyota’s own answers to questions from the L.A. Times (edited for brevity). Given Toyota’s apparent lack of confidence in the software or electronics in its prototype crash analysis tool, one can not help but wonder if this is really due to the tool, or the production systems it was designed to analyze:

“Toyota does not yet have a commercially available EDR readout tool and currently has only one prototype readout tool in the U.S. Toyota performs EDR readouts for law enforcement under certain circumstances. We are also occasionally ordered by various courts to perform EDR readouts. A readout for law enforcement is a community service that Toyota performs. Toyota does not have the capacity to perform readouts using its one prototype tool in all cases.”

“Toyota’s EDR is capable of recording only the previous several seconds of activity before and/or a fraction of a second after a crash or near-crash situation.”

“Given the fact that the readout tool is a prototype and has not been validated, it is Toyota’s policy not to use EDR data in its investigations. However, Toyota has used the readout tool under certain circumstances.”

“EDR data ownership varies state by state. The prototype software used by Toyota to perform EDR readouts is proprietary, as is the case with all auto manufacturers. Toyota does not contend that the EDR readout data is proprietary. When a data retrieval tool is commercially available, any data retrieved will then as now be subject to applicable state law.”

“Federal regulators require Toyota and all other OEMs w/EDR equipped vehicles to make a data retrieval tool commercially available by 9/1/12. Toyota will, of course, comply with this requirement.”

Given the mature nature of EDR technology and the degree to which its competitors have made their EDR data available for 3rd-party download; the limited circumstances (e.g. court order) under which Toyota makes its single “prototype” device available, the way in which Toyota characterizes the software within as “unvalidated” and unreliable, and Toyota’s persistence in these actions despite the obvious conflict of interest (as the sole party that can release EDR data), one has to wonder what Toyota is hiding behind their black box.

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