Automotive companies are quick to advertise the new technology in their vehicles with flashy television commercials: bluetooth, rear-view cameras, sensors and advanced steering and braking systems. However, there is one technological advance they don't often discuss: the Event Data Recorder (EDR), otherwise known as the Black Box .
Part of the reason could be that a black box in a car, much like a black box in a plane, records what happens immediately before, during and after oftentimes tragic events.
Another reason could be that until such time that we have uniform laws on who owns the data, who has access to the data, and for what purposes the data may be used, automotive companies have an unmistakable interest in retaining rights to all of the information being recorded and transmitted in and from your vehicle, including black box data.
After an accident, and most importantly after an accident involving serious injuries or death, black box data can provide crucial information as to who was at fault and how they were negligent. Evidence can include vehicle location, speed, braking, direction of the wheels, airbag deployment, and the use of seat belts.
Recent Examples of the Use of Black Box Evidence
When former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's Chevrolet Suburban became entangled with a red pickup truck while speeding to meet with radio personality Don Imus, the black box clocked his car at 91 miles per hour and also knew that Corzine was not wearing a seat belt.
When Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray was caught by black box data when he crashed his state-owned Ford Crown Victoria into a rock ledge going almost 100 miles per hour, it showed that he didn't brake or try to steer away from the ledge, and that he too wasn't seat belted in.
Legal Questions Remain
Nearly all recently manufactured U.S. cars, trucks, buses, dump trucks, and semi-tractor trailers are equipped with an EDR. In September 2014, this piece of computing technology will be mandatory in all new U.S. vehicles. The EDR monitors a vehicle's electrical systems, and the NHTSA, according to its website, is requiring up to 45 data points to be recorded.
Most event data recorders are programmed to record data in a continuous loop, writing over information again and again until a vehicle is in a front-end collision or other crash. When an accident occurs, the device automatically saves up to 5 seconds of data from immediately before, during and after an incident.
A number of legal questions have emerged about black boxes, most importantly being whether police and insurance companies have the right to review the data in the vehicle's EDR? Police agencies investigating crimes have already been seizing black boxes and black box data, with and without warrants.
Car Insurance Rights to Black Box Data
Car insurers also want the black boxes in order to determine who is at fault and how badly passengers should have been injured. Interestingly, only a minority of states have ruled on an insurers rights to the data. The common result being that insurance companies need owner permission to get the data. In the majority of states, the issue is still up for debate, and some companies are using the ambiguities to access the data for their files. When a car is totaled and the insurance company buys the vehicle and obtains title, claims to the data become even more substantial. Some insurance companies have resorted to putting a clause in their policies granting them the right to retrieve and use the data from your vehicle. So read the fine print of your auto insurance policy if privacy is a concern.
When and How to Get Black Box Data
Black box data is not vital to every case. But in circumstances where the negligent driver is denying liability, or where a vehicle has crossed the center line and neither party has a clear description of how the collision occurred, or where the collision is on a highway involving a semi-tractor trailer and there are substantial injuries or death, black box data can be the difference between winning and losing your case. Black box data can also be crucial in a product defect lawsuit against an automotive manufacturer, as has been seen in the Toyota and General Motors claims.
Black box data is difficult and expensive to get to, and interpreting it takes special training. Extracting the data after an accident involves using a data-retrieval tool kit that consists of hardware, software and a cable that plugs into a car's onboard diagnostics port. That's the same port mechanics use to identify engine problems. Crash data retrieval tool kits aren't cheap, running $2,000-$10,000 and up, not including training costs. Because it's so difficult and costly to extract, it's virtually impossible for average car owners to do it on their own.
Contact an Attorney
Individuals who have suffered injuries or the loss of a loved one as a result of a motor vehicle collision, should consult with a competent car accident injury attorney to assist them in pursuing a legal claim for compensation.
Holder Susan Slusher, LLC handles serious injury and wrongful death cases and car and truck accident cases in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, Camdenton, the Lake Ozarks area and throughout Missouri and mid-Missouri. Contact our legal team at (573) 710-4716 for a free initial consultation.