Series Introduction: Photometry and Driver's Eye Video
Oct 31, 2016
When I started in the Forensic Analysis industry 24 years ago, my first task was sitting in a dark room watching reels of 8mm and soon after, 16mm film. The subject of these movies was the current state of the art attempts at performing nighttime accident reconstruction from a driver’s perspective. The film camera would be setup in a vehicle, presumably at the driver’s eye height, and the exemplar driver would travel towards an exemplar subject, say a pedestrian who had been struck in a crosswalk. Back then, computer animation had not yet reached forensics, so an actual pedestrian was used to play the part of the pedestrian who had been struck. This presented obvious safety issues for the exemplar pedestrian, so various methods were concocted to avoid the potential of striking the pedestrian as the vehicle traveled towards him or her. The most effective of these was to film the reconstruction at a higher than normal frame rate, allowing the vehicle to drive at a slower rate. For instance, if the actual vehicle was deemed to have been traveling at 45mph at the time of impact, the film could be run at 3 times speed, thereby allowing the driver of the exemplar car to travel at 1/3rd speed of 15 mph. Another method was to stop the filming, and the forward progress of the pedestrian, 1 to 2 seconds before impact, with the assumption that at this late point it was too late for the driver to react and avoid the collision anyway. This method of providing the jury a real time driver's view of what was available to be seen revolutionized the nascent field of compelling trial exhibits, placing the jury as close to actually “being there” as was possible. Many large verdicts, as well as hard fought Defense verdicts, were awarded behind the compelling manner of this type of presentation.
Fast forward to today and this method is still very popular and continues to drive success at trial in a way few other visual aids can. PSI has been involved in this process throughout and have dedicated a large amount of time and resources over the past 18 months to significantly increasing the accuracy of these demonstrations as the technology involved has evolved at a rapid pace. In a series of articles, I will outline the challenges inherent in performing this type of work, the industries attempt at meeting these challenges and highlight the work being done at PSI to bring the technique into the present with increases in accuracy and demonstrable validity.
What are we trying to achieve with Driver View Videos?
In the case of an accident between a vehicle and another object, for instance a pedestrian, the question arises “Why didn’t the driver see the object and avoid striking it?” a corollary to this question is “When would an attentive and prudent driver have seen the object and would such a driver be able to avoid it?” These questions are at the heart of the Jury’s determination and appropriation of fault at trial. If the Jury believes that they personally would not have collided with the object, it is likely that they will not favor the driver. Conversely, if the jury believes that the visual challenge was sufficient that they too may have been involved in the accident, then they are more likely to believe it was not the driver's actions, or inactions, that caused the accident, and that factors beyond the driver's control and responsibility were the primary cause.
So, how does the jury get the information they need to make such a distinct and difficult determination, given that they themselves were not present at the time of the accident? Enter the driver view visualization. If we could recreate the incident, controlling for the major factors such as speed, environmental visibility conditions and motion of the involved parties, we could then see for ourselves what the driver (and pedestrian) were faced with. As an expert witness who intends to testify at trial, this would be sufficient. However, stopping at this point ignores the jury’s desire to see it for themselves as well. If we could record the recreation with sufficient fidelity to the visibility conditions present, we could then provide the jury with the same experience we as experts have when taking part in the recreation process (the term “recreation” is rife with connotation subtleties that play an important role in admissibility. I will discuss these later and opt for now to use the term loosely as a convenience). This is the Holy Grail, as it provides the jury with the closest thing to having been there themselves. Potentially. It could also mislead the jury if not done properly, providing not a view of what happened, but a compelling and expensive distraction form the facts of the case. Hence, the ongoing effort to continue to refine the process with which these presentations are created and presented.
Look for installments to this series in the coming weeks.
Craig Fries is the Founder and President of Precision Simulations, Inc., the foremost forensic analysis and animation firm in the US. In this role he has created or directed over 1,000 3D forensic animations for use in criminal and civil litigation and has maintained a 100% record of non-exclusion at trial. As a pioneer in the field of forensic laser scanning, Craig created the first 3D animation based upon laser scan data ever admitted at trial in the US, and has been at the forefront of the use of the technology in homicide and accident investigation since.