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Black Boxes In Cars: What You Need To Know

March 13, 2023 by Steven M. Gursten

Black Boxes in Cars: What you need to know

Black boxes are in almost all cars on the road today. Consistent with their official name – “event data recorder” – these devices record driving and vehicle data from immediately before, during and after an automobile crash. This data can assist in crash investigations and is often used as evidence in court cases.

Event data recorders provide critical evidence if you are ever injured in a crash. The data helps lawyers and police determine the true cause of a motor vehicle accident. It can also strengthen your claim with your insurance company. This can help a lawyer prove the negligence of the at-fault driver who caused a car accident and who has injured you or a loved one.

In my own experience as a Michigan car and truck accident lawyer, I regularly use event data recorder information in cars and trucks as evidence in most of my serious auto wreck cases. Often, in the event of a fatality or a very serious injury, Michigan State Police will have already downloaded the data as part of the police investigation as well. However, this is still the exception, not the rule. Most smaller cities and townships in Michigan do not have the resources to download black boxes as part of a police investigation into a car or truck accident.

For an injured auto accident victim, the data from an event data recorder can mean the difference between winning and losing. For example, in a typical “he said/she said” automobile accident that does not have eyewitnesses, the information in the event data recorder may be the only source that tells the story of what really happened and caused the car crash when one driver is lying.

If it looks like fault will be contested or the person who causes an automobile accident is refusing to take responsibility, it is imperative to hire a lawyer as soon as possible to perform an event data recorder download. In this regard, it is critical that your lawyer has the actual experience to know how to quickly get this data to help you or a loved one get the best possible settlement in your case.

What is a black box in a car?

A black box in a car is an event data recorder (EDR) that depicts data such as speed, throttle position, brake usage, seatbelt usage, airbag deployment, and other relevant information. The data can be accessed by investigators, law enforcement, or insurance companies to gain insights on what led to a crash.

Do cars have black boxes in them?

Unless the vehicle is very old, it is likely that there is an event data recorder or black box in every car on the road today. Event data recorders are “standard” in many vehicles manufactured by Ford, Chrysler, GM, Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

Does the federal government require an event data recorder for every vehicle?

No. At one point, the requirement for event data recorders in every vehicle was being strongly considered and with the push to embrace new safety technology and to pave the way to future autonomous or semi-autonomous driving, it came close to passing. However, as of today, there is still no federal law in place. A mandate for an event data recorder was likely not more aggressively pursued because nearly all vehicle manufacturers are now already installing them voluntarily.

Are there federal safety rules that apply for vehicles with event data recorders in them?

Yes. The federal safety regulations for “Event Data Recorders” apply to vehicles “manufactured on or after September 1, 2012” if the vehicles “are equipped with an event data recorder”. (49 CFR § 563.3)

Black box in car accident

A black box in a car accident can be very helpful because they gather driving and vehicle data from before, during and after the crash that can be used in crash investigations to identify causes and contributing factors for the crash.

For vehicles in which event data recorders have been installed, federal safety regulations impose requirements for “collection, storage, and retrievability of onboard motor vehicle crash event data” to ensure that it records “in a readily usable manner, data valuable for effective crash investigations.” (49 CFR § 563.1, § 563.2)

How long does a car black box store data?

Generally, most modern cars and vehicles store data in the black box for a limited time period, ranging from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. The duration can vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and it’s best to consult the manufacturer or refer to the vehicle’s owner manual.

How can information from an event data recorder be used in an automobile crash lawsuit?

An event data recorder in a vehicle can be used in a crash lawsuit to help prove that the at-fault driver was driving negligently at the time of an auto accident that injured or killed another person. The data recorded is typically accessed by the police, crash investigators and/or accident reconstruction experts.

They will download the data and use it to conduct a collision damage analysis, which allows the police, investigators and/or reconstruction experts to determine if the data is consistent with and supports (or contradicts) the drivers’ versions of events concerning the crash.

Courts involved in auto accident lawsuits frequently issue subpoenas for the data recorded of the vehicles involved. Many if not most courts treat this data as admissible evidence during litigation.

Black box information in cars

Federal regulations require that “event data recorders” gather the following black box information in cars: (1) vehicle speed; (2) accelerator or throttle position; (3) frontal, side and curtain airbag deployment; (4) application of the brakes; (5) number of crash events; and (6) steering input. (49 CFR § 563.7)

Additionally, these devices must also gather data about: (a) the seat belt status of the driver and front passenger; (b) engagement of the ABS; and (c) the vehicle roll angle.

What is the period of time that an event data recorder gathers information about a crash?

Generally, the event data recorder gathers a total of about 20 seconds worth of data concerning an automobile crash, including the 5 to 10 seconds before as well as seconds during and after the crash.

Do insurance companies use event data recorder information on vehicles to spy on how people drive?

No. Black boxes in cars do not allow your insurance company to spy on how well or safely you are driving. However, if you accept your insurer’s offer of a telematics car insurance discount and you download your insurer’s tracking app on your phone, then your insurer can gather data 24/7 about your driving habits. You can read our blog on telematics in cars and car insurance discounts to see how we advise our clients in this regard.

Unlike an event data recorder in a vehicle which only collects limited information for the time period before, during and after a crash, the telematics tracking app is constantly gathering information about your driving from the moment you download the app.

The information collected by the telematics tracking app includes: (1) the times of day or night that you drive; (2) how far you drive; (3) sudden accelerations and decelerations; (4) events such as slamming on your brakes; (5) cell phone use; and (6) speed.

Were you injured in a car accident? Call a Michigan Auto Law lawyer for a free consultation

If you or a loved one was injured in an automobile accident and you have questions about how an event data recorder in your vehicle can help you protect your legal rights to pain and suffering compensation, economic damages and auto No-Fault insurance benefits, you can call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 968-1001 for a free consultation with one of our experienced car accident attorneys. You can also get help by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.

Black Boxes In Cars: What You Need To Know

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