by Bill Siuru
You are in a serious accident. You know the light was still yellow when you crossed the intersection, but a witness says it wasn't. You see an expensive and time-consuming lawsuit as well as higher insurance rates in your future if you can't prove you weren't at fault.
Fortunately, you had the foresight to install a DriveCamT unit in your truck. Now being marketed by I-Witness, Inc., a start-up company in San Diego, CA, DriveCam is a recorder that automatically records everything that the driver sees, hears, and feels for the 10-second period prior to and 10 seconds after a crash, near-miss, abusive driving, or other event of interest.
The entire unit is installed on the windshield. The DriveCam unit continually records 20 seconds of video, audio and four directions of G-forces into a looping digital memory. It will retain the last 20 seconds of data when triggered by acceleration in any of the four directions that exceed a threshold value. This triggering can result when the vehicle comes into contact with something. Very aggressive driving or hard braking can also trigger it. The device retains the last event that triggered retention until a more aggressive event occurs.
For instance, hitting a curb hard enough for triggering would be retained until a panic stop to avoid an accident generates higher G-forces. Alternatively, DriveCam can be triggered manually by pressing a button on the unit to capture an event of interest like a drunk driver, another vehicle being driven erratically, or a case of serious road rage.
Three versions, each of which has a retail price of just under $700, are offered depending on the application and the level of threshold G-forces for triggering. The "Conservative" version would be installed in, for example, egg delivery and florist vehicles. The "Normal" version could be used in buses, ambulances and trucks. Finally, there is an "Aggressive" model for police cars and other rapid response vehicles. There are two types of installation. One with suction cups and cigarette lighter electrical connections, which are designed for use in multiple vehicles. The other model is permanently glued to windshield like rearview mirrors and the electrical connection is hardwired into the vehicle's electrical system.
The wide-angle camera (100 degrees field of view) provides approximately the same view the driver sees. No special technical knowledge is required to operate DriveCam. It has the same familiar 'rewind, play, fast-forward' controls as a VCR and replays on a standard television or a camcorder. When you press the play button, you will see a replay of the 20-second period before, during, and after the recorded event. Also displayed are the corresponding four G-forces and a time stamp. On replay, you can experience the same information you had when you made the original driving decisions. No expert interpretation is required as the video replay is easily understood by anyone, since it is from a human perspective.
Obviously, nothing can be better than having a clear picture plus sounds and data of vehicle behavior to determine what happened just before, during and after an accident. Without this "complete" story, crash investigators have to reconstruct the accident from skid marks, damage to vehicles, and eyewitness accounts. All of these are prone to wide interpretation or variability. Human eyewitness testimonies are notoriously unreliable. Due to the rapid and shocking nature of most crashes, two honest individuals often give conflicting testimonies. In contrast, DriveCam shows exactly what happened from the driver's perspective without any subjective bias or interpretation. Should responsibility need to be determined in a courtroom, DriveCam offers easy-to-understand and incorruptible evidence. Data is stored encrypted on a computer chip so it cannot be tampered with, a key factor when presented as evidence in a court of law.
You might initially think getting drivers to accept the unit would be a tough sell. The first comment is probably that they don't want "Big Brother" watching them drive. However, when a trucker is involved in a crash, he or she may be put on probation, suspension, of fired. Owner-operators may have their leases terminated and suffer serious financial hardship while the crash investigation is pending. Driving records and insurance costs would also be adversely affected. Having the hard, clear facts and being able to see exactly what happened can prevent innocent drivers from being incorrectly blamed.