Thu | Jan 23, 2020

Cedric Stephens | Motor vehicle tech as accident witness

Published:Sunday | April 21, 2019 | 12:19 AM


QUESTION: I was involved in an accident near Black River in February. A truck drove into the left side of my car. It was travelling on a minor road. I was on the main road. The driver admitted to me that he was at fault. However, he told his insurers that my car ran into his; that I caused the accident. His insurers have refused to fix my car and reimburse my medical and other expenses. My insurer is not involved; I have a third-party policy. What can I do to get the truck’s insurers to pay my claims? My car has a black box. Shouldn’t the data recorded in it prove that I did not cause the accident?

− B.W., Black River PO

INSURANCE HELPLINE: The truck driver caused the accident. This was my first thought after I read your email. The second was that the person who is handling the claim at the insurance company is ignorant of her duty to you and has never read the Road Code. The third is related but, unlike the others, took the form of a question. What actions can you take to prove to the sceptics at the insurer that their policyholder caused the collision and that they are liable to pay your claim?

Three independent sources say the truck driver caused the accident. Two are local and one is foreign. Local author Cliff Hylton is the first. His Jamaican Driver’s Guide was first published 54 years ago. In discussing road junctions, Page 11, he writes: “Approach all road junctions with caution … Bring your vehicle to a complete stop at all stop signs … and proceed only when it is safe to do so”.

The other booklet, The Jamaican Road User’s Guide uses almost the same words to say the same thing (Page 44, Road Junction Operation). I interpret both guides as saying that the onus is on the driver of the vehicle entering the intersection “to proceed, only when it is safe to do so”.

The truck driver was in the process of entering the main road from a minor road when your vehicle was passing. There ought to be no doubt as to which of the two drivers caused the collision.

The Florida Driver Handbook agrees. It describes an open intersection as one that is not controlled by traffic control signs or signals. It says: “When you enter an open intersection, you must yield the right-of-way if a vehicle is already in the intersection”(Page 38).

The truck’s insurers have offered no argument, based on the information that you provided, that explains why their driver was not at fault. They seem to be relying solely on his declaration that he was not responsible. In doing so, they have ignored what you said. Is their no-pay decision founded on what is in their best interests and not based on the facts?

They have complete control of the claim. They should not accept the statement of the policyholder which is inconsistent with the facts. They also appear to be treating you unfairly. They have overlooked their obligations to you under the 2019 version of the regulator’s market conduct guidelines.

I am unfamiliar with ‘Black Box’ technology – in motor vehicles or aeroplanes. My Internet research has not helped.

While I understand the theory behind the technology, I wanted practical information. Do black boxes that are in cars in Jamaica provide the information that you need? I contacted my friend, K. Mike Webster, founder and head of Advanced Insurance Adjusters and motor vehicle accident reconstructionist, to find out.

He wrote: “Black boxes (like those in aircraft) are not actually black. They are more properly called Event Data Retrieval (EDR) devices … they provide limited information and are found in Asian right-hand drive motor vehicles in Jamaica. The data retrieved from the Toyota and Nissan Xtrail lines offer useful information. Data that is collected by European-made vehicles – BMW, Mercedes Benz, Audi, Volkswagen and the like – cannot be read locally. In some cases that we have handled, the five-second pre-impact data that is supposedly routinely recorded cannot be found.”

It seems very unlikely that your black box will help.

Accident reconstruction is another option to explore. Forensic engineer and collision reconstructionist of Santa Barbara, California writes that “accident reconstruction is the process using scientific methodology to determine the circumstances, mechanics, and contributing factors associated with a collision. It requires a working knowledge of many disciplines including physics, vehicle dynamics, mathematics, photogrammetry, and computer applications (that is, spreadsheets, AutoCAD, simulation or modelling tools, graphics and photo-management software).

“Questions such as: ‘How fast was the vehicle going at impact?’ or ‘How much did the vehicle slow during the locked-wheel braking?’ or ‘At what angles did the two vehicles collide?’ can be answered by the reconstructionist after a thorough evaluation of available information.”

I strongly recommend, if you fail to persuade the insurers to pay your claims based on the arguments that I have presented from three independent sources, that you consider the engagement of a local accident reconstructionist to prove your case. Good luck!

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: