A Bullet From A 14-Year-Old Is Just As Effective As Engine Electronic Control Modules in Trucking Cases For Attorneys

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Engine Electronic Control Modules in Trucking Cases For Attorneys

The electronic control modules (ECMs) on today’s heavy trucks can provide lawyers with a wealth of information. They can also provide no information, useless information or wrong information. Knowing how they work and how they can help or hurt your case is becoming increasingly important in trucking cases.

ECMs go by many other names, but essentially all units perform the same type of function, monitoring engine functions and related systems. The ECM unit is connected to various sensors and sending units on the engine and other systems. Generally, these units may provide information on fuel consumption and efficiency, braking, mileage, speed and maintenance issues. They are also used to monitor the behavior of motor carriers’ fleets and individual drivers. The North American Transportation Management Association publication Motor Fleet Safety Oversight, Principles, and Practice encourages the use of recording devices to help monitor drivers, vehicles, and operations. ECM systems vary by manufacturer and are truly product specific applications. The industry has little standardization and requires proprietary software to download ECM data and generate usable reports. Fortunately, most trucking cases do not involve legal action against the engine manufacturer, so the software can be obtained from the engine manufacturer or its ECM related supplier.

The ECM might tell you if the driver was speeding, or if the driver was braking, or it might show that the driver’s logs are fake, but maybe not. The ECM may contain information from other data devices it receives information from, including sensors such as ABS brakes and automatic transmission control units. The types of information you may wish to obtain include diagnostic data, trip data, event data, audit data, maintenance data, and configuration data. The most useful is event data, which can yield useful information for accident reconstruction.

The ECM also produces outputs based on inputs that control or assist vehicle functions. Finally, ECM shares information with end users by reporting stored information in a usable format based on mathematical algorithms and data.

Typically, data is stored in two ways: temporary memory and permanent memory. In temporary memory, data is stored in buffers and new data overwrites old data. The length of time recorded varies by manufacturer and model, but typically ranges from a few seconds to several minutes. Permanent memory information stored on your device accumulates over time. Some of this information is processed information, that is, it is accumulated and processed to store outputs such as total miles driven and maximum speed. Persistent memory also stores critical event data if certain preset criteria are met. For example, a common preset is for emergency braking with speed drops anywhere between 7 and 12 mph. This input will cause event data to be automatically moved to permanent storage. Even if such data is not moved to permanent memory, it may still exist in memory buffers. At some point, it can be lost if conditions exist that allow new data to overwrite old data. Vehicles operating after an accident may destroy evidence of the incident, so precautions must be taken to preserve this evidence.

Keep in mind ASTM Standard E 860, Standard Practice for Inspection and Preparation of Articles Involved or Likely Involved in Criminal or Civil Proceedings, 2007. You should notify other interested parties of any inspection and take precautions to preserve evidence. Obviously, you need an expert to get data on ECM. Make sure your experts have the right software and expertise to download ECMs correctly. Making a data connection only to a powered ECM can result in data loss if proper precautions are not taken. It is important that you make sure that your specialist also performs a full inspection of the vehicle and confirms that it is in the same condition as it was at the time of the crash. Important items include axle size, tire size and tire condition. It is also necessary to identify the configuration file in the ECM associated with this device. ECMs are set for factory tires and axles when left out of the manufacturer’s control. If your expert assumes the data is accurate without checking the profile, you could end up with a huge bill and a discredited expert opinion.

After restoring data, you may encounter a common issue where the data is reported as a single trip. In other words, the user never sets the software, and the basic factory settings are one-way mode; what to do? If the situation is worth it, there are ways to discover the data you’re looking for. By now, most people are aware of the fact that they can wipe a computer hard drive, but computer-savvy wizards can reconstruct files that were wiped long ago. The same goes for ECM data. If you have a single trip report for the truck’s entire lifecycle, you can still parse and coerce the data into more usable pieces if you can identify the markers in the data. This is not always possible, but in important cases, consulting a software engineer with expertise in ECM systems may result in useful information recovery. In order to perform such a recovery, you will need the original ECM and samples to experiment with. Samples must be obtained from the field to conduct experiments. It is important to note that attempting to retrieve data in this manner will likely alter or even destroy the data on the ECM, so proprietary software data downloads should have been secured and electronic and paper copies provided to all parties. This should also only be done with court approval to avoid theft claims.

ECM data can be informative, but is it reliable? Unfortunately, there is no direct answer to this question, as it depends heavily on the systems, computational methods, and data employed. However, the idea that computer monitoring systems record and report something gives it an air of scientific validity that may exaggerate the actual reliability of the results. There are known variables and inaccuracies in almost every part of ECM data, especially if you don’t understand how it was calculated. Common errors include incomplete or missing data, incorrectly reported values ​​such as speed, brake, acceleration, and engine governor. Velocity errors can be caused by input source or calibration errors. For example, if speed data is based on mathematical calculations on data from the powertrain, changes in the transmission, wheels, or weight could affect the calculations and thus the reported data.

Research has shown that speed reporting is severely underreported during emergency braking maneuvers on tractors equipped with ABS. If maintenance has changed the tire or axle size, the reported speed will be wrong. If wear significantly affects tread speed results. Finally, if the speed profile of the ECM changes when changing the tire size, it must be set correctly, otherwise the results will be inaccurate not only due to the tire size change but also due to the ECM curve. Speed ​​is calculated by the ECM using values ​​for known factors such as tire revolutions per mile, axle ratio and drive shaft revolutions. The ECM calibration for these factors is set pre-sale, but can be changed post-sale using software. ECMs and other data loggers are not a panacea, they are just one piece of the puzzle. The idea that they are black boxes that can answer our questions confuses science with the magical 8-ball. If you and a good expert learn about collisions, trucks, their equipment, software and related literature, you can develop some very useful information that may prove your customer case. Make sure you understand all of this before paying for an ECM download, otherwise you’re just wasting your money.

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