Finding The Right Computer Program For Auto Investigations
By Jack Murray, CLI



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Computers are a fact of life, but like a lot of other facts of life, some of us try to pretend they don't apply to us! I was certainly not a pioneer in the usage of computers for accident reconstruction. A lot of reluctance resulted from my general ignorance of how to use them and how much time and effort they would ultimately save. Least of all did I understand the whole new, expanded, area of expertise and competence they would lend to my business.

Ultimately, as my competition began using more and more computer generated information against me, I had to accept the absolute necessity of becoming computer literate, both to check the accuracy of my own reconstruction work as well as that of others.

Surprisingly, it didn't hurt, and it wasn't costly! After a relatively short time spent with two highly recommended books, Computers for Dummies and PCs for Dummies, I was on my way. I would estimate that now we use some form of computer generated information in about 80% of all accident cases we work and 100% of all our reconstruction work.

As with many other technical advances, your ability to utilize the various software programs in your business is limited by your skill level and your budget. The following review of available programs will assist you in developing the computer materials that are best suited to your practice:

STARS
Soft-Tec Computer Services, Inc.
3663 Brookland Ave.
Fort Worth, TX 76116
Ph: (817)560-7201

STARS is without a doubt the most user friendly of all programs on the market. Simple, complete and does just about everything you will ever need to do in this field. STARS provides you with formulas and computations for locked wheel stop with skidmarks, critical curve speed, fall/vault, time & distance, radius of curvature, tangent offset equation, and quadratic equation, etc. With STARS, you submit what you know and then you know what you can find out from the programs. It's as simple as it gets. Another good feature is that the workbook which comes with it has all the formulas and their explanation printed out.

EXPERT AUTOSTATS
4N6XPRT Systems
8367 University Avenue
La Mesa, CA 91941

Supplies vehicle data on over 15,000 cars, pickups, vans and utility vehicles, 1945-1994. You need enter only the manufacturer and year to obtain the wheelbase, overall length, height, weight distribution, curb weight, width, drive wheels, front/rear track. Mid 60s to present also provides front overhang, hood height, bumper to ground, bumper to windshield, bumper height, turn circle, wheel radius, ground to hood and sometimes the stability rating. These stats are indispensable when trying to demonstrate such factors as crush in a vehicle after impact or the angle of impact.

EXPERT VIN DECODER, produced by the same company, allows rapid "decoding" of the information contained with the 17 character VIN numbers of cars, vans, utility vehicles and light trucks, providing country of origin, manufacturer, vehicle type, gross weight of the vehicle, line, series, body style, engine, year, assembly plant. It also show whether the VIN number check digit is valid. This service can be invaluable when starting to prepare a product liability case.

ALTOOLS-EQUATIONS
ARSoftware
14844 NE 31st Circle
Redmond, WA 98052

Easy to use. Relatively simple to understand. Consists of commonly used formulas to calculate speeds, ties, distances, acceleration rates, vault speeds, and lateral curve problems. One unique feature is that you enter the data directly into the equation and see the results immediately.

Also available from this company are:

ALTOOLS--LINEAR MOMENTUM which uses the principle of linear momentum to calculate the impact speeds, speed changes and force angles of colliding vehicles. With each new calculation, a vector diagram shows the complete momentum problem. You choose the coordinate systems you like.

ALTRUCKS--BRAKE EFFICIENCY which calculates braking efficiency of any vehicle with an air brake system, allowing you to determine how brake adjustment and temperature affects stopping ability and vehicle behavior.

Prosource Software, 280 Woodland Drive, Park City, UT 84060-5152, has a line of products available covering both light vehicle and heavy truck accidents:

LARM 11: combines all aspects of linear and rotational momentum with crush energy in one easy to use program. Requires little computer literacy. Covers single vehicle crashes against a solid object, head on and rearend collision, side swipe collisions, two-vehicle oblique collision, two-vehicle crashes when after impact date are available for one vehicle only, two vehicle crashes where only angles rotated after impact are available. Also calculates energy equivalent speeds, uses computer graphics to draw vehicle to vehicle impact diagrams, and prints out all essential after impact data for specified impact speeds.

Picking Your Package
There are a number of other similar programs on the market, all of which advertise some "unique" aspect, and all of which are available in different price ranges.

My advice is to send for their literature, use the sample discs, talk to someone who has the program--then carefully weigh the cost against your projected usage.

Most importantly, do not be fooled into thinking that owning a computer package will make you a reconstruction expert! You must have the basic knowledge required. The computer materials can, and will, raise your level of proficiency and accuracy, but it will not compensate for basic lack of knowledge of the principles of reconstruction.

Jack Murray, CLI, has been a member of NALI since 1984 and a member of NAIS since 1991. He may be reached at: 3942 Rochelle, Dallas, TX 75220. Ph: (214)902-9156.

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