Nighttime Visibility

Accident Reconstruction Case Study

This case involved a box truck that had a mechanical failure and came to a stop in the fast lane of a major highway in the middle of the night. The box truck sat disabled in the fast lane with its hazard lights on. Witness statements indicated that several vehicles had managed to change lanes to avoid a collision, but ultimately a Volkswagen Jetta impacted the rear of the truck. Kineticorp was hired to determine the speed of the Jetta at impact and analyze the visibility of the running lights and the hazard lights on the box truck.

Video Transcription

Neal Carter: So, this was a case where a box truck had a disablement event, had a mechanical failure and came to a stop in the fast lane of the highway and was sitting there for a while. Several vehicles that were initially in the fast lane were able to swerve out of the way and avoid impacting the back, but ultimately there was one vehicle that didn’t. So, that vehicle impacted the rear of the truck. I was asked in this case to determine, first off, the speed of the vehicle as it hit the back of the truck. The speedometer, the back plate had a nice indicator mark at like 82 to 85 miles an hour, which is not in every case, but in this case was indication of the speed. I was also asked to determine how visible the truck would’ve been and to make an exhibit showing the clients and ultimately showing the jury how visible the truck would’ve been.

Jim Marr: Well, this specific case, you know, this guy’s in a Jetta driving down the highway 80 miles per hour, and the visibility for this case, he had his hazard lights on. If he didn’t have his lights on, it’d be a totally different case, because I don’t think you’d be able to see the truck until just a few hundred feet away, but because he had his lights on, there’s plenty of time to react to this.

Neal Carter: We actually bought an exemplar Jetta. We’re scanning it right now to get the three-dimensional profile of it to take three-dimensional measurements of that. We’re taking that out to a dark road. We actually use an airport maintenance road so it’s very little lighting.

Jim Marr: We took that truck out to Front Range Airport, and we got an exemplar vehicle. We set that up, and then we set cones up every hundred feet. Then from inside the exemplar we take photographs at each cone.

Neal Carter: What we’re doing is we’re looking at the back of that truck from inside the Jetta at different distances to determine when the driver could’ve seen the box truck on the roadway, based on the headlights of the Jetta.

Jim Marr: Ideally you would want to take a jury out to the scene just so they could see how dark it is and what the vehicle looks like, which, you know, that’s just not an option. So, you have to have your camera calibrated, so that people can understand just exactly what the lighting looks like out there.

Neal Carter: Our team has a lot of experience and a lot of talent when it comes to visibility analysis and especially nighttime visibility analysis. This is an area where we are the leaders in our industry. We were able to take the video of the highway and then digitally add information from the truck. So, we can digitally add that in a way that’s accurate, and the end result is really seamless.

Jim Marr: You know, we’ve written a lot of papers. We’ve come up with a lot of processes. I think Kineticorp definitely has a name in the industry for nighttime visibility.

The Process:

Kineticorp was hired to explore two questions. How fast was the driver going at impact? And would the lights of the box truck have been visible to the driver of the Jetta in time to avoid the impact? Senior Engineer Neal Carter, determined the speed of the Jetta at impact by analyzing the vehicles post impact movement. By analyzing a tire mark deposited by the box truck after the impact, Neal was able to place the speed of the Jetta between 80-85 mph at impact. Senior Forensic Animator Jim Marr was asked to determine the visibility of the hazard lights and the truck itself at different distances to determine if their presence gave enough warning to the Jetta driver to avoid the collision. Jim performed a nighttime visibility study at a remote location to mimic the low light conditions at the accident scene. Photographs of the rear of the truck were taken at various distances, and were calibrated so that they could be displayed in an accurate manner.

The Result:

The investigation allowed us to create a calibrated, realistic animation of the accident that depicted the view that the Jetta driver would have had as he approached the disabled box truck. This animation was presented in mediation and ultimately helped in achieving a fair settlement in the case.

The Team:

Neal Carter, Jim Marr

Related Case Studies, Content & Research:

Motorcycle Headlamp Research
SAE 2017-01-1366 – Comparing a Timed Exposure Methodology to the Nighttime Recognition Responses from SHRP-2 Naturalistic Drivers
Collision Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3, 2016 – How Accurate Are Witness Distance Estimates Given in Car Lengths?
SAE 2007-01-4232 – A Method for Determining and Presenting Driver Visibility in Commercial Vehicles

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