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Black Boxes in Trucks

How to Obtain Black Box Data and Use It to Help Prove a Truck Accident Case

In recent years, there has been growing pressure to use black boxes to improve safety in the commercial trucking industry. These monitoring systems — also known as electronic log systems, electronic data recorders and electronic control modules systems — are implemented in commercial trucks throughout the country.

It’s important for attorneys to download a truck’s black box data as soon as possible following a serious truck accident. This information can help prove your case — and discredit the defense.

Below, we’ve provided an overview of the legal importance of black boxes.

Truck GPS and black boxes

Usually equipped with global positioning systems, truck black boxes are the main source of information about the truck and its journey, and show where the truck was before the crash.

Black boxes are used to track vehicle maintenance issues, such as tire pressure. They can also track truck driver performance, such as sudden brake applications, speed control, following distance and exceeding regulated hours.

Black boxes contain e-mail exchanges between the truck driver and the trucking company, which in many of our cases, have led to astounding discoveries of mechanical problems, driver fatigue and admissions by the truck driver immediately after the accident.

The data that can be obtained from a black box varies from model to model, but in most instances, the computer records incidents involving hard braking, engine RPMs and whether the clutch was engaged.

Obtaining black box data

In any serious injury or death case involving a commercial truck, a truck accident lawyer should send a preservation of evidence letter (also commonly referred to as a spoliation letter) via certified mail to the motor carrier, notifying the motor carrier that black box data is required for litigation, and that the truck must not be moved or repaired.

Here’s information about starting the truck accident investigation.

It’s also important for the attorney to retain a truck expert who can be present during the black box download, or to establish an agreement regarding where, how and by whom the information will be downloaded. This will help prevent any defense “mishaps” in the downloading process that could result in a loss of crucial information. In some cases, the software needed to download the data is proprietary and needs to be obtained from the manufacturer of the black box.

Many new trucks also have devices that monitor driver fatigue, assist in rollover prevention and monitor proximity to vehicles that are ahead of the tractor or in a blind spot to detect impending collisions. In order to determine what information is available, you should request the truck’s “line sheet” or “build sheet,” which identifies all of the equipment on the semi-truck when it was delivered from the manufacturer.

If the truck company gives you trouble

Black box data can be lost if the truck is driven after the crash.

If the truck company refuses to preserve the data or the parties cannot agree to the terms of the download, a lawyer should file a lawsuit immediately asking the court for an ex parte order requiring the company to preserve the truck and its black box data until an inspection can be performed.

Using black box data to prove your case

An attorney can use black box data in a variety of ways throughout litigation. Because there is no “one way,” experienced truck accident lawyers often disagree on the best use of the black box. Some use it during the driver deposition, while others choose to hold it for trial.

However, in any deposition, a lawyer’s examination of the defendant truck driver should include eliciting detailed testimony of his or her actions at and just before the collision. Once the truck driver has given sworn testimony about his or her braking, clutch application and shifting, the lawyer can use the black box data to impeach this testimony.

The data will also be very important to the truck accident expert witnesses. Many experts can prepare computerized animations re-creating the truck accident by using information obtained from a total station reconstruction. By combining the total station data with the information from the black box, experts can verify that the animations are accurate representations of the event. Such demonstrative aids are very persuasive and effective tools for proving liability.

The black box data can additionally be used to contradict defense experts’ opinions, by showing that their reconstructions are inaccurate, if their opinions are based on assumptions that are inconsistent with the data downloaded from the truck’s black box.

How lawyers use black box data depends upon the facts and circumstances of the truck accident case, and your own creativity. Regardless, get the black box data. It is invaluable in truck accident cases.

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