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Wood County sheriff has device to access crash data

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A green metal box has changed the way crash scenes are processed in Wood County.

The lime-green box in question is small, fits in an adult’s hand, and weighs less than a pound. The box is the key component in the Wood County Sheriff’s Office’s new crash data retrieval system, said Sgt. B.A. Pickens with the sheriff’s office.

“This is such a valuable tool for us, especially if there is a crash with no witnesses,” Pickens said.

Much like the black box on an airplane, most vehicles have a crash data system installed in them, Pickens said.

Different versions of the crash data system perform differently, each capturing different aspects of information in different time increments, but all of the data is important in that it tells officers what happened in the moments before a crash, he said.

These systems record information such as braking, acceleration, total speed, change of speed from the non-event to the event, whether a vehicle rolled over, how many times it rolled, even whether the vehicle came to a full stop at a stop sign, Pickens said.

The data retrieval system was purchased for the Wood County Sheriff’s Office by the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program in January.

The tool was purchased after Bob Tipton, director of the highway safety program, authorized its purchase for the Wood County Sheriff’s Office, Pickens said. The $3,000 cost of the machine was paid for by the highway safety program.

It is not a widely owned tool, Pickens said. In West Virginia, the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office has one, and a few private individuals on different police forces own one, but it is not a widely available tool yet, he said.

Since the machine was purchased in mid-January, it has been used three times, Pickens said. In one of those instances, the device was used to determine whether the driver of one vehicle actually stopped at the stop sign, and it has been instrumental in determining fault in the other two wrecks, he said.

Pickens is one of four members of the Wood County Crash Team who were trained in usage of the crash data retrieval system.

The system is normally used only after a serious wreck or a wreck that results in a fatality, Pickens said. It can be used in less severe instances when fault is in question.

The unit stays in the sheriff’s office most of the time, and is taken into the field when it is needed. Most of the time, it is used after the fact, once the road has been cleared and the vehicle towed away, he said.

A search warrant is usually issued in order for the device to be hooked up to the car’s computer. The vehicle does not need to be in working order for the crash data retrieval system to be used, he said.

“All we need is a car battery and the key,” Pickens said. “As long as we have those, we can use a universal cord and just hook it up to the laptop and get the information.”

If the car is not in working condition, the crash data box is removed from it, and the system hooked up a different way to obtain the data, he said.

The data in the car’s crash data box tells officers exactly what happened in the seconds leading up to the crash, he said. It is usually saved in the car in five-second increments, and many cars have systems that will store the last several events, he said.

“You can sometimes trigger the event recorder (in your car) if you hit the speed bump at Wal-Mart the right way,” Pickens said. “It also records whenever the airbags are deployed or the car rolls over. It doesn’t matter if it’s at 10 miles an hour or at 65 miles an hour.”

The data is used in conjunction with the area where the crash occurred to determine information such as whether the driver came to a full stop at a stop sign, or performed a rolling stop, Pickens said.

“If it doesn’t say zero (miles an hour), it obviously tells us that they didn’t stop. If it shows they were going 25, then 15, then accelerated, we know they could have braked and then did what I call a California Stop, kind of cruising through the stop sign. With this, we now have access to the information we need to show who was at fault,” Pickens said.

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