Is it time for a car black box?
Ayala-Alabang accident renews need for better probe aidsBy Tessa R. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
At a time when parents should be fussing about their kids’ return to school, three families of Ayala Alabang Village will be sending four sons to their final resting places.
The untimely end for four teenagers came at 4 a.m., when most everyone was asleep, on Saturday, May 19. Initial investigation showed that a speeding black Hyundai Elantra carrying the teens crashed into an electric post on the corner of Acacia and Guijo Streets. The impact of the crash threw the passengers off the car.
Three of the victims were declared dead on arrival at nearby Asian Hospital and Medical Center. The other victim passed away at the hospital.
Though security cameras caught the accident as it happened, it was not clear who drove the car, or what exactly caused the accident. Further investigations are ongoing.
Was it the recklessness of youth, or a ghost in the machine?
In the wake of this tragedy, Inquirer Motoring recently asked car experts if a forensic national service in the country was already warranted. For several years, concerned groups had urged government to form a team of trained forensic crash investigators to help improve the search for truth in traffic accident investigations.
Starting the investigations on the right foot could, indeed, be provided by security cameras installed at strategic points along streets, corners and maybe inside vehicles. Case in point: A recent CNN report showed a car crash in South Korea. The video footage came from the front-mounted camera of the said vehicle, attached to the rearview mirror—which was a common practice in South Korea.
The video shows what seems to be an out-of-control car that drove through two red lights before crashing into a stationary car at a speed believed to be 80 mph (129 kph). The video has audio, and a couple can clearly be heard shouting, “Oh my God, what is happening, what is wrong?” The wife screams “Oh no!” just before impact. The CNN reports that the incident and the vehicle are now under investigation by the Korean National Forensic Service. There has been no time estimate declared for the conclusion of the investigation.
Would the camera footage help determine what really happened? Is it about time cars were installed with their own “black boxes” where video and audio of what transpires inside a car is recorded? If so, how much added costs would this have on cars? These were the questions Inquirer Motoring threw at the car experts. These are their answers:
“A forensic crash investigator will help find the answers to the tragedy in the same manner that forensic crime investigators solve crimes. Whether it was caused by driver error, vehicle defect, road design or a combination of defects, the forensic crash investigator, if equipped with the proper training, experience, tools and knowledge, can arrive at a finding that can help provide the answers,” auto expert Alexander P. Loinaz said.
“Definitely, the vehicle was going at a velocity exceeding safe limits.” He cited the law that states that “any person driving a motor vehicle on a highway shall drive the same at a careful and prudent speed, not greater nor less than is reasonable and proper, having due regard for the traffic, the width of the highway, and of any other condition then and there existing; and no person shall drive any motor vehicle upon a highway at such a speed as to endanger the life, limb and property of any person, nor at a speed greater than will permit him to bring the vehicle to a stop within the assured clear distance ahead.”
Loinaz added that many public vehicles such as taxis and buses are now equipped with video recording devices not only to record driver behavior, but also as a deterrent for criminal activities inside the public utility vehicle.
Daisy P. Jacobo, Land Transportation Office traffic safety division chief, said that “the country, indeed, needs an independent body like a national transport safety board similar to the one in the United States that tells us what really is the cause of road crash to guide policy making and policy evaluation.”
She added that “CCTVs are fine because these can help but these should not lull us into complacency by giving us a false sense of security.
“What happened in Alabang is a mystery crash because no one survived to tell the story,” Jacobo said.
Jacobo said that the government has trained investigators at the Highway Patrol Group. She added that the accident may be a confluence of factors: the occupants, the vehicle, the road and the environment.
“The idea of installing black boxes in public utility motor vehicles is being mulled because of spate of crashes involving buses, but private MV owners may not agree with it because they believe it is an invasion of their privacy. I agree that it is a sweeping generalization to fault the occupants without the benefit of a full-blown investigation. Let us put some science to conclusions, especially this can be deemed to be a mystery crash,” Jacobo said.
Due to time constraints, Inquirer Motoring was able to interview only one product specialist of a “car black box-camera” (the View-i Black Box, a portable drive recorder with a built-in GPS logger).
Luisito Chito Canteras, CyberSoft Integrated Geoinformatics Inc. vice president for marketing and sales, said that without doubt, the availability of a competent forensic national service will help any vehicle accident investigation.
“In this particular situation, forensic engineering will eliminate guesswork in determining if this incident was a result of mechanical failure of the vehicle; or through forensic chemistry, the presence of illegal drugs/substance can be determined if consumed by the parties concerned. We should encourage the study of forensic science and both the government and the private sector should join hands in extending incentives to individuals who would seek a career in this field as well as the procurement of up-to-date equipment to carry on the tasks required,” Canteras said.
Canteras added that the installation of CCTV along the streets will help as long as the event will happen in front of the camera. “Just the same, there are a lot of blind spots (not considering the bad video quality) with CCTV relative to the vehicle. I believe, therefore, that CCTVs are valuable but are not enough.” Canteras stressed that “the availability of an onboard video and audio recording device simply gives answers to questions that may never be accurately answered if such a device is not used. This alone is sufficient in deciding to install a recording device in your vehicle.”
The View-i Black Box, according to Canteras, records the visual condition of the road, traffic, weather, scenic views as well as the audio from the interior directly from the dashboard. The two-camera Ruby model allows additional recording of the visuals of the vehicle interior even during night time with its night vision attachment. Computer playback software allows review of GPS data including date and the time of recording, vehicle speed, G-force, and when connected to the Internet, the actual location of the vehicle as shown in a map. View-i Blackbox can be installed in all types of vehicles.
“Considering that black boxes can also save insurance companies a lot of settlement payments, discounts can be given by insurance companies for vehicles equipped with a black box.”
Short URL: http://business.inquirer.net/?p=60943