In this Issue:

50 Years of Boating at ATA

ATA Staff Published in Collision Magazine

This Issue's Toolbox Feature - Human Factors


Fifty years ago, as the Apollo Program was winding down, NASA engineer Bob Swint embarked on a second career, moonlighting as an accident reconstructionist on a boating mishap that involved a bass boat’s stick-steering system. That modest, initial effort ultimately led to the founding of ATA Associates, Inc., and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, though ATA has become well known for its broad expertise in the investigation and reconstruction of motor vehicle, railroad, amusement park, industrial, and consumer product accidents, boat testing and boating accident reconstruction still remain core areas of interest for Bob Swint and the other engineers and staff at the company he created.

Stick-steering systems are still around, but they are no longer as easy to find as they once were. Like most other technologies, boating technology has evolved by leaps and bounds in recent decades, and many boating systems today are far more complex than they were ten years ago. The power of typical inboard and outboard motors has increased substantially in the last few years, and “drive-by-wire” systems are steadily replacing mechanical, cable-based steering and shift/throttle controls. Likewise, global positioning system (GPS) receivers are growing more ubiquitous on recreational boats, both as stand-alone navigation aids and as inputs to self-driving autopilot systems.

At the same time however, even as boating hardware has become increasingly more technologically sophisticated, certain basic hazards have remained stubbornly endemic to boating. Occupant ejections and propeller strikes persist as hazards, as does the danger of carbon monoxide asphyxiation from the exhaust of propulsion engines and on-board generators. Lack of crash worthiness has been a perennial issue in boats, while several of the most recent cases ATA has worked have involved the simple lack of adequate visibility from the helm. And, of course, as with motor vehicle crashes on land, simple human folly, carelessness and driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol will probably always be boating perils.

ATA understands boating technology and the hazards of boating and has used that expertise in the investigation and reconstruction of hundreds of boating mishaps over the past fifty years. Boat testing has been a key component in many of the litigation cases ATA has worked on which include the landmark propeller guard case, Sprietsma v. Mercury Marine, which was argued before the U.S Supreme Court before being remanded back to state court. Other notable cases that have benefitted from ATA’s boating expertise include Bell v. Mastercraft, which ended in a record jury award (at the time) for ATA’s client, and The United States v. Mejia-Leyva, a federal case where ATA’s testing and testimony contributed to the successful conviction of two assailants who had used their boat as a deadly weapon in a fatal assault on a U.S. Coast Guardsman.

ATA can bring to bear its full arsenal of test and inspection equipment including drones, laser scanners, digital data acquisition systems, side-scan sonar, and multiple GPS receivers to do state-of-the-art boat performance testing as well as investigations and demonstrative re-enactments of on-water boating incidents. In addition to its technical hardware assets, ATA also has insights into and contacts within the boating community owing to current and past involvement with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA), the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME).



“Using Civil Twilight Envelopes to Describe Commercial Trucks’ Headlamp Illumination”

Years of study have been devoted to the understanding of the effectiveness of automobile and light truck headlights. ATA saw a need for supplementing these works with a study on Class 8 tractor headlights. Through the great generosity of International Trucks of Houston, Rush Truck Center of Houston, Vanguard Truck Center of Houston, and Houston Freightliner & Western Star, we were able to borrow four brand new tractors.

This project would not have been possible without the extensive help of Dale Runkle, who made the valuable connections with the local dealers and assisted during our night testing. And we thank Houston Community College and Martin Garsee for the use of their facility to conduct the testing.

Our goal was to determine the effective range of tractor headlights in order to educate commercial drivers and ourselves, about useful range of headlights under low light conditions with no other illumination or reflective cues. Dr. Jeff Andre, PhD, the lead author of the paper, used his extensive training and experience on human visual function to relate the data collected by April Yergin and Allen Vaughan to the human visual system.

Figure 1

One of the highlights of the testing was that we flew a drone overhead, which showed clearly in pictures, the headlight patterns. Twenty-eight measurements were made for the trucks on low and high beams. Figure 1 shows the four trucks with low beams on.

Figure 2

Figure 2 is the mapping of the headlight patterns for low and high beams for the four trucks. A light meter was placed at ground level and then at 42 inches above the ground. The Civil Twilight equivalent value was found (3.3 lux) which represents the extent of useful vision illumination.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows the resulting useful illumination distances. In the truck’s travel lane on low beams the average was 221 feet. In the oncoming lane center, the useful illumination distance was 180 feet average. Because the lights are aimed slightly downward and to the right, in accordance with federal standards, the driver’s ability to detect and identify unmarked hazards will be better toward the right side.


This issue’s featured topic for ATA’s Toolbox is Human Factors. This is one of the most critical disciplines in the field of forensic engineering. There are Human Factors components involved in nearly every incident that ATA investigates. The study of Human Factors involves topics such as expectancy, human body motion, judgement of speed and distance, perception reaction, visibility problems and anthropometrics.

To find out more about ATA's history and experience in this field, visit:

ATA Toolbox - Human Factors.