By Brandon Cathcart, EIT

Infotainment and telematics systems are becoming increasingly popular in modern vehicles. Since the introduction of Ford’s SYNC system in 2008, most vehicle manufacturers have developed their own in-car systems that allow occupants to play music, make phone calls, look up directions, control vehicle functions, and even connect to the internet with intuitive interfaces. All these features are desirable selling points for consumers; however, these systems can also contain useful information for vehicle investigations. First, let’s define the two types of systems.

Infotainment units combine information and entertainment. This is the digital interface people interact with on a day-to-day basis, allowing them to control their connected devices as well as car functionality. These units often have Bluetooth or USB connections for phones, and can aid with GPS navigation, hands-free calling, and adjusting car functionality. Examples of infotainment units include GM’s MyLink infotainment system and Ford’s SYNC system.

Telematics units combine telecommunications and information. These modules are typically hidden from the occupants and connect the vehicle to phone or internet infrastructure. The information they record depends on their intended function but can include Bluetooth connections, navigation data, vehicle power cycles, and other system events. These systems can be separate from the infotainment system, such as GM’s OnStar modules, or tightly integrated with the infotainment unit such as Ford’s SYNC system.

Together, these systems can provide a wealth of information for investigators and accident reconstructionists alike. One of the most useful things recorded is navigation data, which can include time-stamped vehicle locations and velocities, routes set by the system or the user, and destinations saved by the user. This data paints a picture of driver behaviour leading up to an incident and whether the route they were taking was one that they had travelled before. Similarly, some modules will record vehicle events such as gear shifting, doors opening and closing, and odometer readings; data like gear shifting can be used to further determine driver behaviour, while door events can provide information of the likely number of occupants in a vehicle at any time. Phone connections can help determine occupancy as well. When a phone is connected to the system via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, it can sync and store information such as call logs, contacts, media files, and SMS messages. By determining which devices were connected during a particular time, we can draw conclusions about who was likely in the vehicle. Additionally, call logs and SMS messages can indicate if the driver was on a call or looking at their phone during or leading up to an incident.

Infotainment units can be a useful tool in vehicle fires or failures as well. Time-stamped events stored by these modules are a great way to corroborate witness statements and determine how the vehicle was being used leading up to an incident. Some modules will store fault codes and vehicle system information that can pinpoint potential issues prior to the investigation. For vehicles reported as stolen, location and phone data can help determine where the vehicle was and who was using it during that time.

The method of getting the data from an infotainment or telematics system varies depending on the manufacturer and the vehicle involved. A vehicle forensics tool developed by the Berla Corporation is used for data extractions. The tool consists of hardware, for physically connecting to these systems, and their iVe software, which interfaces with the hardware to extract, store, and interpret the data. Before beginning a download, it must be determined whether the vehicle has a supported module installed. This can be complicated as there can be variation in installed systems within the same make of vehicle. Once confirmed, the data extraction can commence. Some vehicles, such as Toyotas and Hyundais, require the module to remain in the vehicle and have power applied to it in order to access the data. Other vehicles, such as GMs, require the module to be removed from the vehicle and taken apart to access the circuit boards inside. The Berla hardware tool contains its own small circuit boards specific to each unit that is attached to the main infotainment board to extract the data. In either case, once the data has been successfully saved to a computer, the iVe software can interpret the data and present it for analysis.

Infotainment and telematics systems are another tool in the investigator’s or reconstructionist’s toolbelt. They are becoming increasingly common in passenger vehicles and can provide critical information to determine liability and combat fraudulent claims. The collision reconstruction experts at CEP are trained in infotainment and telematics data extraction and would be happy to discuss what information is available and how it can help your claim.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this topic, please contact our Collision Reconstruction team at 877 686-0240 or info@cep-experts.ca

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