It was with some surprise that I was notified this month of my lifetime membership, awarded by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), as a result of my 40 year association with them.
Some associations in which I have been a member for many years, such as the Accreditation Commission for Traffic Accident Reconstruction (ACTAR), seemed to work hard at cutting their ties with me. Through progressively more draconian demands they insisted that I fulfill their yearly attendance requirements at their courses from which they gained funds, leading me to cancel my relationship.
In contrast SAE has been a good partner. Over the years they continued to hold their World Congress at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. For many years I used to travel there in late February along with many of my associates from the Transport Canada, university-based, research teams, or meeting with fellow consultants, and competitors, from forensic engineering firms in southern-Ontario. SAE eventually moved the World Congress to April of each year.
Anyway the World Congress was, and is, a meeting place of about 40,000 automotive engineers from around the world. The topics of technical presentations at the meetings were vast: Anything you wanted to know about body panels, or coatings, or the latest advances in engine technology were all presented there. I spent my time almost exclusively with the groups presenting at the Accident Reconstruction and Safety Technology sessions.
It was at the Safety Technology sessions that I gained an appreciation of the complexities involved in mitigating the effects of automotive collisions. Much testing with anthropometric dummies with sled and barrier tests was reported in complex analyses that only those deeply involved in similar testing could fully understand. Yet by listening one could get some idea of the primary issues. One could be assured that, when some complex issue arose in the real world, there was a deep analysis of it in this group of SAE sessions.
The other sessions I regularly attended were those in Accident Reconstruction. It is silly to me now, like it was at the very beginning, how some persons insisted that one could not use the word “accident” as there was no such thing as a collision that did not involve human fault. Fortunately the engineers presenting at the SAE World Congress had better things to do than play with such silly definitions. Yet there was much more competition and agitation in the Accident Reconstruction sessions than in the Safety Technology sessions. It was likely because these sessions involved the gathering of many forensic experts who either worked for plaintiff or defense clients in various justice system settings. It was not once that two engineers entered into a shouting match over some technical issue that came up at some recent trial where the engineers were at opposing ends of a engineering-legal argument. Yet there was also much reporting on new testing of reconstruction methods and tools. The vendors of computer simulation and animation programs presented their various tools comparing one to another. I, like many consultants, ended up purchasing many manuals containing the details of the technical papers. These papers were used as citations in reports for client cases.
In short my membership in the SAE was, and is, a great learning and connecting experience. It is an honour to me personally that I may continue my association with this far-reaching group of exceptional thinkers and solvers of transportation problems that rise up with each new generation.