In this Issue:

That's Infotainment!

Downloading Data From Outboard Motors

ATA on TV - Houston's Most Dangerous Railroad Crossings

The Captain’s Corner

From Bob Swint's Vault


Anyone that has been in a new vehicle in recent years has seen big changes in the dashboard. As part of an effort for car manufacturers to stay ahead of both the design and technology curves; where once resided a traditional radio and climate control panel, we now have highly sophisticated "infotainment" systems.

So what exactly do we mean when we refer to an infotainment system? These are systems that are designed to manage audio, supply navigation data and information, support incoming and outgoing SMS text messaging, for syncing to smart phones for communications, traffic and weather, as well as for gaming, social media and an ever growing list of applications.

Forensically speaking, infotainment systems can supply a mother lode of useful accident reconstruction related information. Harvesting the GPS information alone can yield a wealth of historical data such as the vehicle’s speed and location for hours, days, and sometimes months before an accident. If an occupant had his cell phone connected either by Bluetooth or by a hard connection; there will be information stored as to the incoming and outgoing phone calls made, when they were made and to whom they were made. If the phone was connected by Bluetooth, information from text messages will be stored as well. On some systems, even information regarding when a door was opened, or when the headlights were on is recorded.

While recognizing the vast potential for data collection that infotainment systems have; bear in mind that there are several manufacturers of these systems and the different hardware and software that they use store varying types and degrees of data. The systems are based on Intel and Microsoft Windows or Apple operating systems.



The downloading of stored data from digital systems on cars and trucks is a routine part of the investigation and reconstruction of nearly every traffic accident. Though the systems which record those data were developed by vehicle manufacturers only to control and monitor on-board systems for improved vehicle performance and maintenance, the data have now become widely regarded as indispensable tools for accident reconstruction.

As with motor vehicles, the relentless march of digital technology has brought computerized control and monitoring systems to the engines of recreational boats, though such systems are less pervasive in boats than in cars and trucks. There is, as yet, no boat monitoring system that is as “crash dedicated” as the airbag control module in a car or the hard stop monitor in the engine control module (ECM) of a commercial truck

The introduction of electronic fuel injection by Mercury in the 1980s opened the door for relatively simple digital monitoring and control of outboard motors. Since then, the complexity and reach of electronic engine controls have significantly expanded, making it possible to collect and store much more outboard motor performance information. Mercury, Suzuki and Yamaha all employ sophisticated engine controllers which monitor performance parameters such as fuel pressure, water pressure, the function of fuel injectors and battery charging voltage and current. Generally, the newer the motor, the more data is being monitored.

The data stored by a late model outboard motor, and available for download by connecting a laptop computer to the motor’s diagnostic port, are typically of two types – fault code logs and run time histories. Typically, when downloaded, these data are presented in plain English with no special skill or training required for their interpretation.

Newer outboards record every instance when the motor generates a fault code. These would include overheating, over revving of the motor and over charging of the battery. Additional data may also be recorded. In the case of an overheat, the log may include the date it happened and the duration of the overheat event.

A run time history will indicate the cumulative total of hours of operation. Mercury, Yamaha and Suzuki also provide a histogram or statistical break down the hours in 1000 rpm increments, from idle to 6000 rpm, depending on the motor's range. These data may provide insight into possible irregularities in the way the motor was operated over its lifetime.



ATA’s own Bob Swint appeared on Houston NBC affiliate KPRC Channel 2 recently in an interview conducted by investigative reporter Joel Eisenbaum, who has filed a piece on dangerous railroad crossings in the Houston area. You can view this informative report at the following link:

Channel 2 Interview with Bob Swint


ATA Associates has created a two and one half minute public service program designed to warn the boating public about the dangers of the improper setting of an outboard motor’s trim tab. This video demonstrates the danger when a trim tab is improperly set, a boat may turn quickly and spontaneously when the steering wheel is released, even though the operator does not feel a large force on the wheel. The boater has no more than two seconds to grab the wheel and correct the action. The problem can be eliminated by moving the trailing edge of the trim tab a few degrees to the starboard side of the propeller’s centerline.

Developed and narrated by Robert Swint, nationally known boating expert and founder and CEO of ATA Associates, the program, “Two Seconds to Survive - The Hazards of Unbalanced Steering” is available to view on ATA’s Youtube channel by going to:

ATA YouTube Channel


This issue’s vault will take you to a presentation created by ATA’s staff that describes best practices in performing railroad grade crossing incident investigation.

This comprehensive guide takes you on the entire journey of how to properly execute a forensic investigation, from gathering information, conducting inspections, all the way through to courtroom presentation.

To access the presentation, scan the QR code on the vault image, or click here .