Vehicle Black Box Data May Be Useful In a Crash

Did you know that the majority of vehicles sold in the United States have a “black box,” akin to those found in airplanes? The devices, called “event data recorders,” or “EDRs,” are not a new concept. EDRs were first developed for use in cars in the ‘70s, in the first cars that used airbags. By 1994, certain cars manufactured by Cadillac, Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick came equipped with the black boxes, and by 2005, 64% of all new cars had EDRs installed. While the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated in early 2014 that all new cars had a form of data recording installed, not all the data was retrievable in a standardized way. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created a rule requiring that the data would be retrievable and formatted in a standardized manner.

Originally, EDRs were designed to measure fuel efficiency by recording throttle position, revolutions per minute, and air flow in the engine. However, the devices have evolved to include the ability to record performance malfunctions. For example, the EDR can record when an airbag sensor detected a fault, as well as how many times the engine had been started since the fault was originally detected. A major reason the NHTSA intervened to regulate how data from EDRs was recorded was that, when the Toyota unintended acceleration recall happened, there was only one computer in the US that could read the Toyota EDRs, and over 16 million cars had been recalled. Data on acceleration was crucial in those cases to determine whether the vehicle was defective.

The primary use for EDRs today is to record data surrounding an automobile accident. The EDR is constantly monitoring certain readings from sensors all over the vehicle, and recording over previous data after a certain span of time has passed. When an impact occurs that causes the airbag to deploy, the EDR permanently records five seconds’ worth of data before and after the impact for investigators to analyze to determine the causes of the crash. The NHTSA requires EDRs to record data from fifteen sources as part of this crash analysis, which include the change in speed of the car at the time of the impact, how fast the car was going prior to impact, whether the car was accelerating, whether the brakes were applied, whether the car was hit more than once before the impact that caused the airbags to deploy, and whether the driver’s seat belt was fastened. Some cars record additional data, such as the weight of the driver or passenger, and the position of the driver’s seat. In New York, this information is only accessible with the owner’s consent, by court order, for the purpose of manufacturer safety research, to service the car, or to deploy emergency medical personnel (if the car is equipped with wireless transmission capabilities, which not all are). However, some insurance policies include a clause which requires drivers to consent to the release of this data to analyze the causes of a crash. This data can be highly useful to prove the circumstances under which a crash occurred, or to show a malfunctioning of the vehicle prior to a crash, if you believe that a manufacturing defect led to your accident.

If you’ve been in a car accident in Poughkeepsie, Albany, Kingston or surrounding areas, contact experienced personal injury law firm Basch & Keegan for a free consultation, at (845) 338-8884.