In this Issue:

ADAS - Advanced Driver Assistance Systems

Modifying an Old Test

Expert Profile - Van O'Neal

This Issue's Toolbox Feature - Product Liability


By Robert Swint, CEO, ATA Associates, Inc.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are integrated electronic technologies that assist drivers in driving and parking functions via human-machine interfaces. These systems are being developed to automate, adapt, and enhance vehicle technology for increased vehicle and road safety. Features are designed to avoid accidents and collisions by offering technologies that alert the driver to potential hazards, to implement safeguards, and to take control of the vehicle when necessary. Early ADAS included electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, blind spot information, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and friction control.

ADAS are categorized into different levels based on the amount of automation and scale by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). These start at Level #1, in which drivers do most of the decision making, through to Level #5, with the vehicle being fully autonomous. ADAS is one of the fastest growing segments in the electronics industry due to increasing adoption of industry-wide quality and safety standards. However, a lack of full standardization produces different systems that do not operate uniformly and that can be difficult to understand.

ADAS systems in vehicles will continue to increase in capabilities and complexity. There are, however, limitations to the successful implementation of ADAS technology. As previously mentioned, ADAS features are not standardized and ADAS behavior is known to change from car to car.

Event Data Recording (EDR) data do not typically contain information on ADAS status. Proprietary information stored on the vehicle may contain data related to ADAS technologies, but the type, quality, and quantity of data may vary between vehicles manufactures and models. It is expected that over time, the onboard data recorders will include more data on systems performance and on driver activity and input.

The implementation of ADAS systems on commercial vehicles and heavy trucks is separate from that of passenger vehicles. In fact, collision avoidance technologies are not presently required on new commercial vehicles.

ADAS systems for automobiles are in the early stages of development. The slow development of performance standards and lack of regulatory action have delayed development of collision avoidance technology and negative user experiences with the current technology may set back public acceptance.

More research and development of ADAS is needed to determine its true value to vehicle operation safety. Even with this technology, drivers must remain active and engaged in vehicle operation. The capabilities and functions of these systems can be confusing. Additionally, many drivers are unaware of the safety limitation of the systems.

Many government agencies and industrial organizations are involved with ADAS requirements and verification, (NHTSA, NTSB, IIHS, DOT, FMCSA, ATA, ATRI, SAE, EC, TIRF, IEEE, AAMVA, etc.), resulting in the slow development of performance standard and regulatory action.

The operation of and/or absence of various ADAS systems on vehicles is becoming a common litigation issue as to the cause and avoidance of vehicle accidents. The lack of consistent in-vehicle ADAS performance and unclear system requirements make this a major concern.

Background of author Robert Swint:
Mr. Swint spent 25 years at NASA, where his responsibilities included being Chairman of Shuttle Avionics Integration. He has also been CEO of ATA Associates, Inc. for over 40 years, where he has investigated and performed accident reconstruction on over 2500 vehicle accidents.



In 2013, ATA Associates, Inc. provided litigation support for a plaintiff who had been injured by a hot coffee spill at a fast-food drive thru – and no, this wasn’t the much-talked-about McDonald’s case. In our case, ATA’s principal work was measuring and evaluating the differences in the structural integrity of a paper cup with and without its snap-on plastic lid. To that end, a simple fixture was built which used a screw thread to advance a spring-based force gauge against the side of the cup being tested. A rubber tip with a 3/8” radius was affixed to the end of force gauge’s push rod to simulate the end of a thumb pressing against the cup. The test fixture did its job, providing data which clearly showed that a cup without its lid was demonstrably more prone to collapse in the hand than a cup with a lid in place. That data was presented and discussed at trial within the context of the fast-food company’s guidelines for serving the customer. The trial resulted in a favorable verdict for the plaintiff.

Fast forward 8 years to the present, and the same fixture is once again in use, but this time it’s measuring the force required to actuate the trunk release button on automobile key fobs. Earlier this year, ATA’s owner, Bob Swint, noticed that the trunk of his new car would frequently open as the result of unintended, incidental pressure on the trunk release button of his key fob when the fob was in his pocket and he was out of the car, often when he was in his office at ATA. After several such incidents, he noticed that there seemed to be a distinct difference in the button sensitivity of the two fobs he had for the same car; only one of the fobs seemed to be the culprit in the unintended trunk openings. A simple modification to the paper cup test fixture allowed it to be used to measure the force required to actuate the trunk release of the two fobs. Testing showed that there was indeed a measurable difference in their performance. The troublesome one opened the trunk with an applied button force of 0.6-lb. while the other fob consistently required 1 lb. of force to actuate. While the magnitude of that difference seems small, in fact, that 40% difference in actuation force has a significant effect on the practical behavior of the two devices.

When he learned about our key fob tests, a friend of ATA, who manages a large dealership for a prominent luxury car manufacturer said such tests might be valuable to him some day. He explains that warranty costs for mysterious problems are often absorbed by a dealership, but if hard data is available to directly link a customer complaint to a design defect in the product, the warranty costs can be reversed back to the manufacturer. .



Van O’Neal is one of ATA’s associate experts on driver behavior, responsibilities and qualifications. Mr. O’Neal is the retired Director of Transportation Training at Houston Community College, where he wrote and established curriculum for what became one of the largest publicly funded truck driver training programs in the nation. During his tenure at HCC O’Neal supervised and directed training for over ten thousand students and became, at that time, one of the few schools to earn program certification by the Professional Truck Driving Institute.

O’Neal has written transportation related articles published in various industry journals and served as technical advisor/ subject matter expert to a major video publication by Delmar Publishing. He also co-authored resource materials that have been used for driver preparation in the United States, Canada and Mexico. He has appeared as a guest lecturer at national conferences and symposiums. He has been featured on TV and radio shows and appeared as a keynote and motivational speaker. O’Neal served as president of a company specializing in driver training technology production and now serves as consultant to industry and provides expert testimony regarding driver behavior and qualifications.


This issue’s featured topic for ATA’s Toolbox is Products Liability, which includes product testing. In the course of performing our traditional vehicular and boating incident reconstructions; it was only natural that we became heavily involved in product and component testing and analysis, as well as products liability investigations and products safety analysis.

To review our history and background in this discipline, visit:

ATA Toolbox - Product Liability.