The car must know something

City seeks data from SUV involved in accidental death of infant

Accident site
  • Accident site

On March 16, attorneys for the City of San Diego filed a petition with the court to obtain data from 47-year-old David Hoban's vehicle computer system.

Hoban’s SUV struck seven-month old Juniper Aavang and her father John, who were crossing Catalina Boulevard in Point Loma at 6:25 a.m. on March 2.

The city is seeking the vehicle data — which could indicate the speed and braking pressure at the time of impact— in anticipation that a wrongful death lawsuit could be filed by the girl's family. Reportedly, residents have long considered to accident site to be a dangerous intersection.

The city fears the computer data may be erased if action is not taken, due to the fact that oftentimes data stored in on-vehicle computers is deleted after a certain number of ignition cycles. If erased, the city may be in a difficult legal position to defend a lawsuit.

"The subject matter of the expected action is a negligence action against the driver of the 2004 Chevrolet Suburban for the wrongful death of the infant and for the personal injury to the father; a dangerous condition of public property action against [the city] for wrongful death of the infant and personal injury of the father; and a possible indemnity action between the driver and [city]…. This information is relevant to a determination of the Mr. Hoban's speed prior to and at the time of the collision, if he braked prior to impact, as well as the cause or causes of the subject vehicle/pedestrian accident and a reconstruction of the collision."

One day after the accident, residents created an online petition asking that the city make major changes to the stretch of Catalina Boulevard where Cañon Street begins.

"For decades, this intersection has plagued the residential and family-oriented nearby Point Loma community," reads the online petition that had 1421 signatures at the time of this writing. "Residents have pleaded with City and local authorities to remedy the situation, yet their concerns have remain unheard."

The petition asks that the city close Cañon Street, from Catalina to Talbot Street, to traffic in order to avoid what the petition calls are "preventable tragedies.”

"The unused section of Cañon Street would be converted into green space. A space that will become a small memorial community park, where all San Diego families can once again enjoy a safe corner of the Point Loma community. Juniper's relatives were born and raised in Point Loma, they still live in our community. This tragedy could have befallen any of our local families. Please keep our community safe and support making the intersection of Catalina Boulevard and Cañon Street an extension of Southernwood Way, thereby making it usable to residents-only."

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Closing Cañon street between Talbot Street and Catalina Boulevard isn't a solution. It merely shunts the traffic load onto Talbot, between Catalina and Cañon causing considerable congestion during the commuting periods.
As residents of this area know there are two times during the day when traffic is difficult to put it mildly. Morning commute to the government facilities on Point Loma as well as an ever growing number of commuter students at PLNU fill our limited roadway system. In the afternoon those leaving these two sites fill our streets with the cars. Unfortunately, there are really only two viable routes into and off of the Point for these sites, Catalina/Chatsworth and Cañon/Talbot streets. I for one want to see what the professional traffic engineers have to say about the "sight line" to and from the crosswalk in question along with the data from the car's onboard system before any decisions are made about the configuration of our roadways.

The professional traffic engineers are partly to blame here, by placing the crosswalk around the edge of a high-speed off-ramp type road. Like most roads in San Diego, it's designed around driver safety and comfort, which encourages higher speeds. Speed limits are largely ignored, yet even these are based on the 85th percentile of driver speed, with zero consideration for pedestrian safety. Considering all of this, you trust the traffic engineers to fix the problem?

I've met San Diego traffic engineers. One, an avid bicyclist, told me people on bikes don't deserve safe infrastructure! Another is doing her best to prevent a bike lane and widened sidewalk near SDSU, because that's her job. Meanwhile a large biking and walking population of students remains unsafe on the streets there.

It's long past time for traffic engineers to stop designing our public spaces and consider all users, not just drivers.

Interesting case in that all new vehicles have an on board "black box" but I do not know to what extent these devices play in crash investigations. Would be interesting to do an in depth report on what information is collected, how long it lasts, who can get to it and if the data has been used in an investigation or in court.

This archived article can provide you some insight on how Event Data Recorder provide more accurate information then the humans who operate motor vehicles. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/internetprivacy/2004-12-27-auto-blackbox_x.htm

So, if I'm to take a message from this it is that your car or truck can tell exactly how fast you were traveling, your direction, and whether or not you were accelerating or braking, at some particular moment in time. This might go a long way to determining who was at fault, who was breaking the law, and who 'dunnit. So, now that we know that, how does a miscreant manage to erase all that data? You know, I'll bet that sort of stuff is out there on the 'net.

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