August 7, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Speeding? It's your word against your car's

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

State Police investigators, however, later estimated the speed at between 55 and 65 mph (still above the weather-reduced, 45-mph speed limit), speculating that the tires spinning on the slippery surface produced a false higher reading.

And Baldacci, who sustained a mild concussion, a broken rib and various bumps and bruises, insisted he was in fact wearing his seat belt.

Contacted Tuesday, Baldacci said he nevertheless supports use of the recorders -- to a point.

"I think more information is good," Baldacci said. "But at the same time, each circumstance is unique and there will be factors that play into whether (EDRs) are as accurate as they need to be."

(Baldacci isn't the only high-ranking official who's found himself at odds with his automobile: In 2011, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray told police he was wearing his seat belt and wasn't speeding when he crashed his state-owned Ford Crown Victoria. But the recorder had him exceeding 100 mph with no seat belt, prompting the state to slap Murray with a $555 fine.)

A year after Baldacci's mishap, the Maine Legislature passed a law designating an event data recorder the property of only the vehicle owner, thus limiting who can have access to the data without that owner's consent.

At the same time, however, the statute stipulated that the owner's rights are trumped by a court order (as in Chief Beaupre's latest search warrant), by a law enforcement officer acting in his or her official capacity, or if "the data are requested as part of a routine civil or criminal discovery."

Translation: When crunch time comes, the best testimony on your driving may not come from you or the guy who claims to have seen the whole thing. It could come from your own car.

James Harris, owner of Harris Technical Services, has spent the last 22 years studying, consulting and testifying on event data recorders and the related science behind accident reconstruction. Contacted on Tuesday at his Florida headquarters, he said data from the devices is showing up with increased frequency in courts all over the country.

"There's nothing unusual or strange about them," said Harris. "They are technical components built into cars (that) work as well as any automotive system works."

In other words, Harris said, as long as what's on the recorder is reasonably consistent with the apparent damage to the vehicle, it's something that's likely to be used more and more in the future to determine who's telling the truth and who isn't.

That may well be good news for David Labonte -- at least when it comes to how fast he was driving on Friday.

But what about all those drivers out there unaware that when they least expect it, what their car says can and will be used against them?

"The genie's out of the bottle," Harris replied. "Get used to it."

Even better, just slow down.


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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