The world is changing, and the reality of autonomous trucks, delivery vans, and driverless electric cars will transform major cities first, then our roadways, and finally our entire human infrastructure. Completely autonomous commercial vehicles will replace the driver’s task in most modern urban cities by 2030. Professional drivers’ jobs will have to adapt and evolve into fleet management or other logistics based tasks as early as 2020. Driverless technology is triggering a domino effect that could render all sorts of industries ineffective or obsolete unless they evolve, and the insurance, legal, and forensic industries are certainly under pressure to adapt.
After making seatbelts and other automotive safety parts for a short stint in the mid 1990s, I started working in forensic engineering and crash reconstruction. I did not just dabble in it. I dove in head-first and realized it was certainly for me; it has been my focus for the last 2 decades and I am fortunate to have a knack for it. I especially adore the research, testing and development aspect of my profession, which has allowed me further specialize and to (safely) conduct crash tests (sometimes with me inside of the crashing vehicles as a volunteer test subject), explore areas that have not been researched or researched well enough, use and develop specialty software tools to make our technical expert team’s job easier, and also assist other forensic professionals. At the beginning, I did not foresee how my career would be impacted by the knowledge era boom of automotive technology advances, slew of legal changes, and insurance industry transformations. Looking back now, the rapid and widespread growth of computers, cell phones, and the internet may have foreshadowed what’s happening with autonomous transportation; each new technology seems to proliferate even more quickly than the last. It was just a matter of time before the digital revolution took hold of our transportation and the amalgamated technologies altered how we move from A to B in very fundamental ways.
Automotive manufacturers first made changes that were mostly mechanical – they diversified their product lines from mini-compact to heavy duty pick-up trucks and everything in between to accommodate every diverse need. With the digital age, they started adding more advanced active and passive safety technologies, electronic modules, including event data recorders (EDRs), navigation systems, sensors, vehicle telemetries, and collision mitigation systems. Now, several auto manufacturers offer some kind of electric and/or semi-autonomous vehicles, which include adaptive cruise control, frontal collision mitigation, lane departure warning and more. Several companies have already started plans for completely robotic cars without a steering wheel that are very (artificially) intelligent – a lot more intelligent than any drunk driver with a very high IQ. One day these self-driving robots will indeed be ubiquitous and we will get used to them.
We have no doubt seen evolution across our interdependent industries over the years. Lawyers must continuously update their skill sets and knowledge of the most recent case laws. Insurers work with government and other regulating bodies to drive the industry and the best practices in handling of claims and honoring policies. Legal and insurance professionals frequently collaborate and work together to help each other adapt to the changes that the automotive industry and sharing economy are increasingly throwing their way. Alongside our friends and colleagues in law and insurance, us nerdy forensic experts have been evolving and adapting too.
The internet changed the way we research, acquire specialized papers, and interact with other professionals. Most forensic experts continued their education and kept up to date with the changes. Our paper libraries are still catalogued, but the digital revolution has allowed us to archive new journals and magazines more efficiently for computer searchability. Gaining expertise in reconstruction was not enough for even qualified consulting professional engineers and neither was specialized training and research in the areas of driver behaviour, human factors, perception, response, traffic injuries, and forensic crash biomechanics. The new landscape and the complexities of the questions that we are posed demand that we must not only continue to train, keep up with automotive and transportation technologies, but also to test, and study, and interface with other people from various disciplines – even seemingly unrelated fields, such as experimental psychology, kinesiology or medicine. Some of us crash nerds also started conducting our own research, crash testing, and sharing our knowledge with industry via lectures, live demonstrations, seminars and even professional peer-reviewed publications through international industry associations.
It’s not just our methods and inter-disciplinary technical methods that have evolved, but also our tools and test equipment. Drag sleds (the weighed tire pulled using a scale to measure friction) were replaced with accelerometers and high speed GPS and inertial measurement sensors for testing. We acquired kits of hardware, specialized modules, and cables, and constantly updated software versions to access increasingly more complex passenger and commercial vehicle Electronic Data Recorders (EDRs) and other modules. We trained on how to preserve and interpret all this electronic information and more importantly, their limitations. We have become accustomed to laser-accurate three dimensional accident scene surveys and computer generated animations, but we still use our measuring wheel (an invention from the 17th century) and momentum-energy calculations in which the total momentum of the system is treated as constant based on Newton’s Laws of motion (again 17th century). Yup, we always end up back to basics, but with an eye on the future. You know those so-called “black boxes” or EDRs that we download to get crash data from? Given the explosion of data retrieved from the most modern cars, they will clearly be the computer “safety brains” of driverless cars.
Some of us forensic experts (#crashnerds) will be keeping up to speed on how human drivers or crash avoidance systems perceive, respond, how long it takes us or the “safety brain” to do so under different circumstances; this is also how vehicles make (or don’t make) collision avoidance decisions – when a collision does happen, we can reverse-engineer what went wrong. Even without a human at the wheel, the laws of physics never change: an object in motion remains in motion, unless acted on by another force; F=ma and for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There you have it; Newton’s three laws of motion. Collision mitigation is just that; a prelude to driverless technology. If Newton were alive today, he might add a fourth law: For every expert opinion, there is an equal and opposite expert opinion! But luckily, there has been growing attention from the courts to ensure that junk science is not admitted and little weight put on questionable or unsupported expert evidence. Even the objectivity of the testifying expert and their exact qualifications and CVs become more and more scrutinized under the magnifying glasses of the judges in a Voir dire (a mini trial, before or during the trial proper).
It is easy to get caught up in wondering what crashes, insurance, litigation, and crash reconstruction will look like in an autonomous transportation world when human error, the major cause of crashes (more than 90%), is almost completely removed from the picture. Autonomous transportation will affect the frequency and types of crashes we see, in turn affecting litigation and personal injury claims in a way that has never occurred in our lifetimes. At that time, perhaps in a few short decades, a failure will be completely different than anything that we have seen to date in the thousands of crashes that we in the crash reconstruction industry (government, law enforcement or engineering) have collectively investigated or reconstructed. Until then, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to the humble work of piecing together the puzzle of what went wrong, with a measuring tape and wheel, and all of the science and research that goes along with crash investigation and reconstruction.
I am especially appreciative and honoured to work with our clients; I would like to thank each and every one for their patience in educating us about the laws and regulations and trust in us to deliver objective opinions, while always challenging us to refine and simplify our science-y reports. The Kodsi Forensic team is continuously improving and enriched by the people that we have met and worked with at our client organizations. Many of these people have also become professional advisory friends, allowing us to grow and learn individually and as a company. Thank you for your belief in us, support of our research, and your word of mouth recommendations based on your experiences. We have incredible, multi-disciplinary, research-minded technical people in our organization; I am so grateful for the opportunity to work every day with a group of talented, passionate and caring experts. Your willingness to give of yourselves, take the time to peer review and help each other is very special and is deeply appreciated. I would also like to thank the university research, structural engineering, programming and other partners; you are fused with a good team and we are proud to work with you. We have learned a lot from you. I look forward to continuing to collaborate to deliver amazing work and value that makes positive changes for our clients as the world changes. Thank you automotive engineering / forensic investigation / crash reconstruction / P+C Insurance / legal industries for a very special 2 decades. I am looking forward to celebrating the next chapters together. I am now passionate enough to dedicate a major portion of my time and energy to share the knowledge by teaching computer-aided engineering mechanics methods, application and more for law enforcement crash reconstruction professionals.
Sam Kodsi, P.Eng.
President & Consulting Professional Engineer
Kodsi Forensic Engineering
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