Off the Hook – Black box and other stuff


 He had an interesting start at Marysville High School, graduating in 1986. He went on to the Ohio State University graduating in mechanical engineering and later became a consulting forensic engineer. Erin Higinbotham has had an exciting life investigating crashes involving cars and motorcycles. 
 He got his start with motorcycles at just age 9. Apparently that was only off-road stuff. Now he has his own company and has named it 830 Engineering (after his former motorcycle race number). He consults for mostly attorneys and insurance companies, investigating why bad things happen to people and figuring out why they were severely injured. His work as a consulting forensic engineer involves investigating incidents of vehicle crashes. I suspect there is some real potential for stories here, don’t you?
 It turns out people aren’t totally factual in discussing accident details. Maybe it’s just a memory problem. That’s where Erin and his company try to discover what really happened. Sometimes his clients don’t receive the report they were looking for.
 After college, he got his first engineering challenges while working for a mold making company, where he dealt with people all over the world training them to use the company’s molds. It was a good way to meet a lot of people. He then moved on to the Automotive Testing Laboratory (ATL) of Myron Gallogly, which was located at the Transportation Research Center (TRC), and later worked for the TRC directly.
Around that time, he married his wife, Amy. They have two sons and live in the Milford Center countryside.
After 12 years at ATL and TRC, he decided to go on to a national forensic consulting firm and later began his own company. That’s where he got the experience investigating crashes which he has done for the last 15 years.
 I have now learned, at my advanced age, that most modern vehicles have a black box that records the last five seconds of data around a crash. Seriously, I’m glad I didn’t know this and I hope it will be made a complete mystery to me from now on. Erin did some of his usual research on the information about my car that he does on cars he’s working on and came up with this info.
 It turns out that in the last five seconds before I crash (I hope this never applies to me) the black box will record vehicle speed, brake application, engine speed, accelerator pedal percentage, cruise on/off, seat belt usage, tire pressure, passenger airbag warning and lamps. I guess I should feel protected.
 The black box comes into many crash investigations. One of his most interesting stories went like this: “The car was completely burned and the vehicle destroyed. Afterword, it took my investigating team half a day to dig out the car and retrieve the black box. I was still amazed that the box was intact after all that fire. When the investigating team finished their work, it turned out there was also a vehicle crash first, which was not reported. Apparently that evidence was to be hidden by the fire.”
 It turns out that the owners didn’t report the crash and insurance fraud became obvious. Also, the owners were behind on their car payments. Erin advises that the black box is the property of the owner and the police need to get a search warrant to download the data from it. It turns out we are all being watched!
 The black box has been part of many cases Erin has worked on, but he also remembered another potential insurance fraud case. His company was told to download the info from the box. Then, when the owner understood that the file couldn’t be altered or eliminated without someone looking at it, he suddenly decided he didn’t want to file a claim. Perhaps some incorrect evidence was submitted which might be disproved?
 The black box can also record the air temperature at the time of a crash, and results can be questioned when a crash is reported on a particular day and the temperature was nothing like that on the day that the box records.
 One of Erin’s favorite companies he works with is a large motorcycle manufacturer in California. The two have a great relationship and he has inspected their equipment and testified on their behalf in product liability lawsuits. In one of those, a man was severely injured on his motorcycle when his motorcycle did a wheelie and he sued them because he thought it was excessive power. He felt it gave the engine too much gas.
 Erin’s company tested the wheelies of other large motorcycle company on the market at that time. In that demonstration video that was to be used an exhibit at trial, he got to ride around parking lots doing wheelies on these motorcycles, showing that they all have the same potential for wheelies. Motorcycle riding is one of Erin‘s favorite things to do. It may be work for him, yet it is also fun.
 All of this hard work has made Erin an expert witness and he’s testified in about 100 trials and depositions. He said this part is the most enjoyable because everyone likes to be able to prove their work. His job is to help the jury understand what he is saying and show that what he is saying is correct.
 He noted that often someone disagrees with what you say, so the excitement is to show that you are right. Erin says you can even tell a lot about a crash afterward. So much is left after the event. The black box is one very important factor. You can’t erase it – no tampering is allowed with this evidence.
(Melanie Behrens –

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