A Spy under the Hood: Controlling Risk and Automotive EDR

By Thom, Peter R.; MacCarley, C. Arthur | Risk Management, February 2008 | Go to article overview
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A Spy under the Hood: Controlling Risk and Automotive EDR


Thom, Peter R., MacCarley, C. Arthur, Risk Management


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Meet the automotive version of a black box--a small, metal-clad and UPC-stamped case of circuitry that monitors and records the operation of a car's supplemental restraint system, or as it is more commonly known the airbags, its nondescript packaging understates its function and impact. This particular application of automotive event data recording (EDR) is inciting complaints of privacy invasion by the media and public, even as it delivers unequaled insight into the interactions of a driver and car during an accident.

For the risk manager who must anticipate and quantify the dynamic effects of this technology, automotive EDR is an example of how the positive and negative consequences of new technology ripple through a business environment. From one perspective, automotive EDR amplifies the capacity to identify and control risk, and from another view; the burgeoning technology is intrusive and can be misleading, especially as it grows in ways and usage unanticipated by designers.

What does the risk manager who will harness the information gleaned from EDR need to know in order to use the data effectively? The first step is to gain an understanding of the current capabilities and limitations of automotive event data recorders and to see the distinctions between EDR modules in airbags and similar technology in other automotive systems.

Inevitably, risk managers will look at airbag EDR data over any of the others because, at least for now, that data is most accessible and relevant to accident investigations. Beyond that, a keen understanding of the public policy ramifications of automotive EDR will guide the risk manager through its judicious use.

Essential Automotive EDR and CDR

The roots of automotive event data recording are tied most directly to the development of airbags. As manufacturers refined airbag triggering mechanisms in the mid-1990s, they also enhanced data-gathering resources in order to collect real-world data for optimizing airbag performance. The iconic crash test dummy, although a ready volunteer for all manner of crash experiments, only supplies a limited data set compiled from staged accidents. Inserting data-recording capabilities into safety systems is a significant enhancement because EDR data from airbags can freeze the decisions, reactions and system responses that culminated in a real accident.

At a minimum, these intelligent supplemental restraint system control modules retain some or all of the "crash pulse," or the rapid deceleration associated with the impact that deployed the airbag. Much more detailed information has been retained since 2003, especially with the installation of smart, two-stage airbags in newer cars. Upon airbag deployment (or sometimes near deployment), the data stream usually can store about five seconds of pre-crash and crash data including vehicle speed, engine speed, brake status, throttle position, seat belt status, airbag status, time from impact to airbag deployment and the deceleration history or crash pulse during the event.

A crash data retrieval (CDR) interface can download data from an airbag's EDR module and display the results in graphs or lists. This is the information that provides mute testimony to the sequence of operational events leading to an accident. Failure to be sensitive to the proper interpretation and limitations of the EDR data from any manufacturer, however, can easily lead to incorrect but convincing conclusions. This reality underscores the need for high-level understanding of the technology as well as ample common sense when integrating the revelations of EDR with the traditional results of collision dynamics analysis and the physical evidence from the vehicle or crash site. Automotive engineers are generally the best qualified to secure the EDR data and render accurate interpretations.

Benefits of EDR

Automotive EDR delivers benefits at several levels to the risk manager who monitors the exposure potential of a transportation fleet.

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A Spy under the Hood: Controlling Risk and Automotive EDR
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