In this Issue:

Recreational Craft and Small Vessel Safety

Tracking the Paths of Tractor Trailers

Technology Developments at ATA

This Issue's Toolbox Feature - Trucking


by Charlie Clark, Co-Founder of Applied Marine Technology, Inc.

Boating represents one of the world’s oldest forms of transportation and vessels of many types stand as the cornerstone to world commerce, seafood harvest, aquatic industry and recreational marine travel. Similar to other forms of transportation, most shipping and smaller vessel designs that are produced in this modern era place an ever increasing focus on safety. But, what about inland waterway boating and small vessels used in the recreational and non-passenger vessel classification of marine activity?

Without a doubt, the passage of the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Safety Act of 1971 has resulted in the saving of countless human lives through the establishment of manufacturer compliance guidelines for electrical systems, fuel systems, ventilation, safe loading (capacity) and flotation requirements for recreational boats. In concert with these federal manufacturing safety regulations, the life jacket (PFD) industry has developed hybrid and inflatable floatation devices that more appropriately fit the small vessel environment and are comfortable to wear. The National Marine Manufacturers are producing more efficient hull designs that possess more durable and user-friendly components while state governments, the US Power Squadrons and the Coast Guard Auxiliary are hosting thousands of boating safety educational classes each year that are producing a more knowledgeable class of boaters.

Statistically, the risk involved in recreational and small vessel operation on state waters has essentially remained flat lined over the last ten years when accounting for the number of people killed in these type of vessels. Although it is true that without the new regulations, educational efforts and industry technological advances, the number of fatalities would be much higher. There is still much to be done. In particular small open vessels, those less than 26 feet in length, have not kept pace with the general risk reduction technology that larger vessels have enjoyed. Collision avoidance/warning, passenger/occupant seating safety, and occupant ejection prevention represent several potential technology advances which could greatly reduce boating accidents.

Future mitigation strategies to help reduce injuries and deaths on small boats might include the development of a safety envelope within the small vessel that considers adequate operator and passenger seating which does not impair visibility from the helm and minimizes the risk of ejection in collisions/allisions. Such a safety envelope should consider adequate and safe seating in relation to a vessel’s actual persons capacity and not just recommended seating locations for a lesser number of occupants than the actual rating. The design of the seating should consider all the dynamic forces which can be applied to an occupant aboard a small vessel with special emphasis on side and forward ejection trajectories and onboard trauma impact points.

Over the last 50 years small boats and the operators who control them have endured many new regulation based safety requirements. Most of these regulations are focused toward accident prevention. We believe that it is time to consider technology that addresses the severity/survivability of accidents as well as preventative measures that serve to reduce accidents and their consequences. Regulations and education alone will never totally prevent boating accidents, as history has illustrated with land-based transportation. However, the lessons learned from these industries would point the small vessel industry toward technology that prevents and/or reduces deaths and serious injuries incurred in spite of accidents.



In the reconstruction of accidents involving big trucks, vehicle location data provided by fleet tracking technology is often in the mix of available evidence. Because fleet tracking systems typically rely on the global positioning system (GPS), the usefulness of this tracking data in accident reconstruction is subject to the limitations of GPS data in general and of a given dataset in particular. Most GPS systems are advertised as having 5-meter (+ 16 feet) accuracy. In ATA’s investigations of a variety of traffic accidents where fleet tracking data have been available, physical evidence from the accident scene typically corroborates 5-meter accuracy for the tracking systems involved. In some cases, physical evidence has demonstrated that such systems can produce position fixes with 1-meter accuracy or better.

Even when GPS data are accurate within 1 meter, however, it must be remembered that these data describe only the location of the GPS antenna, not the whole truck. This fact can be especially problematic with articulated vehicles such as tractor-trailer combinations. When an 18-wheeler is involved in an accident when turning or crossing through an intersection, establishing the position and orientation of the trailer in the intersection is often the key to understanding the accident. While the path of a trailer will, of course, be related to the path of a tractor-mounted GPS antenna, the two paths are not the same and, in fact, are usually significantly different from each other. Fortunately, if the dimensions of the tractor and trailer are known, and if the position of the GPS antenna on the tractor is also known, a variety of techniques, on either the computer or the drawing board, are available to derive the path of the trailer from the path of the tractor.



There will be two feature articles appearing in the next issue of “The Expert” concerning emerging technologies in the field of forensic investigation. One of those will be an overview of iNPUT-ACE software that has been recently introduced to the ATA workflow.

Using this program, investigators can instantly get access to all of their video evidence – including content in proprietary DVR/surveillance formats that cannot be played, or are difficult to play in other software tools.

Previously difficult to access video evidence can be quickly converted to standard formats, making it easy for investigators to utilize in their own work space, share with team members and to present as evidence in court.

There will also be an article describing ATA’s implementation of drone technology as a more commonly integrated component of our total investigative package. Various members of ATA’s staff recently obtained FAA remote pilot’s licenses and this will add great value to the services we provide our clients.

So, join us next issue to find out more about how these new features will augment our already considerable capabilities to perform the highest level of forensic engineering.


This issue’s featured topic for ATA’s Toolbox is Trucking. Trucking accident investigation, trucking systems testing and the study of trucking safety issues have always been at the forefront of ATA’s business and participatory activities. To find out more about ATA’s history and experience in this field, visit the Toolbox Trucking Drawer.