Most people are aware that vehicles record crash information such as speed, braking, and seat belt usage through the Event Data Recorder (EDR) within the airbag system. But did you know that your vehicle may have collected information from your smart phone? Have you ever rented a vehicle and connected your phone via Bluetooth or the USB port? If so, that vehicle has information downloaded from your device.
What exactly did it download? How is the information accessed? How can it be used?
To provide answers to these and other questions, I’ve interviewed two of U.S. Forensic’s engineers, Matthew Ivory and Kevin Brown. Mr. Ivory, P.E., mechanical engineer, has researched infotainment information available for download and received training in the use of the Berla iVe tool, the equipment used to download infotainment data from vehicles. Mr. Brown, ACTAR, accident reconstructionist and mechanical engineer, has performed EDR and infotainment downloads for clients.
How is Information Recorded?
This varies from system to system, and not all vehicles are equipped to download data. 2008 vehicles are the earliest to have advanced infotainment information available for download. As the newer vehicles were equipped with more sophisticated technology, the capacity to download more detailed data expanded. Some vehicles store infotainment data on a hard drive, others utilize a memory chip. As Mr. Ivory explains it, “Once your device is ‘tethered’ to your vehicle (via Bluetooth or USB), the system has access to some of the data on your device.” In addition to your smartphone, other vehicle networks can also be connected to your infotainment system. For instance vehicle networks that operate your doors, lights, stability control, and speed may share information that can be downloaded through this system.
What Kind of Information is Available?
The trim level of a particular model will determine what information can be obtained in an infotainment download. Depending on the vehicle and what network or device was engaged, a log of calls, contacts, text messages, navigational history, and even voice recordings may be stored within the system.
The information is not always easily obtained. After permission is granted by the owner of the vehicle, our engineers can download the information. Kevin Brown explains, “Sometimes it’s as easy as plugging into a port on the dashboard, but other times you have to access the module behind the glove-box. This is why it is so important to have someone with automotive experience access the data. It can become complicated depending on the model and where the module is located.” For information on what information is available for a particular vehicle or to find out how long a download would take, you can visit our contact us page. If you have a VIN number or trim level for a vehicle, our experts would be happy to discuss options and cost of a download.
Assisting with Collision, Theft, and Hit & Run Cases
Can this tool be used to assist you with accident reconstruction? Mr. Brown states, “Although we typically obtain crash data from the event data recorders, this can be an additional tool to help with certain cases. Older vehicles have filament bulbs which can be examined after an accident to identify whether or not the lights were on during the accident. Newer vehicles have LED lights. If examined, these will not indicate whether or not they were engaged. However, the infotainment system of the vehicle is often connected with the vehicle network that controls these LED lights. Depending on the vehicle, it will provide you information as to when (date and time) the lights were on or off. Also, the data may be able to resolve disputes as to how many people were in the vehicle at the time of an accident. Weight sensing devices in the seat cushions provide information as to whether occupants were in certain seats at a given time.”
Theft & Hit and Run
How can this information be useful? Mr. Ivory explains, “This information can be valuable in investigating cases involving theft. For instance, if a vehicle is reported stolen and a phone was tethered to the vehicle at the time it was reported stolen (or just before), we could obtain information about the specific phone and who it belonged to with time and location information. It might show text messages, calls, and possibly where the vehicle has traveled via GPS. This along with a vehicle inspection and key/transponder analysis, could solidify a case.” Mr. Brown reports that the navigational feature would also be useful for pedestrian, hit and run cases, or in investigating “phantom” vehicle cases where someone claims a vehicle was hit while parked.
As the technology evolves, so will our capacity to learn more about the vehicles, drivers, and circumstances surrounding an event. Vehicles are being outfitted with more complicated and comprehensive electronic networks. “Berla is also adding more vehicles to the list of iVe supported vehicles. They just brought Nissan on board,” explained Mr. Ivory. The technology assists with accidents and thefts, but what does this mean for the average consumer? “The information downloaded remains stored in your vehicle. The concern is that it remains even after it is sold to another party. When connecting your phone to a rental vehicle, that vehicle also downloads your contacts and texts. Only the dealership can delete the data. When renting a vehicle, if you’d prefer not to share your personal data, you may choose to charge your phone using the DC connector instead of the USB port.”
Assistance Near You
U.S. Forensic’s engineers can provide information about supported vehicles, infotainment data available, and guidance as to what may help your case. Visit our locations and contact us page for more information. Follow us on LinkedIn.