Car Accident Attorney
Most people have heard about airplane accident investigators searching wreckage for the “black box” that makes a record of what the plane was doing before it crashed. Many people don’t know that a lot of cars have their own “black box”. Data recorded on onboard computers can help victims prove that their injuries were caused by another driver in a wreck.
The black box in a car or truck is known as an event data recorder (EDR). Some manufacturers began equipping vehicles with EDRs in the 1990s. For many years, different EDRs recorded different kinds of data and stored them in different ways. The federal government in 2006 passed regulations that standardized the data that EDRs would record and retain.
Today, most cars sold in the United States have an EDR. Prospective car owners may need to look into whether an older car is equipped with an EDR before purchasing.
Accident Reconstruction Using EDR Data
When an accident’s cause is disputed, the data from an EDR helps lawyers, insurance adjusters, and juries determine what happened. When it is available, accident reconstruction experts are looking at EDR data to help them analyze the cause of a wreck.
An EDR is typically designed to store data acquired during the five second period before sensors detect the crash impact. Important information about that five second period that may be available on an EDR includes:
- The speed at which the vehicle was traveling,
- Whether the driver was braking,
- How far down the accelerator was pressed,
- Whether the driver was using a seat belt,
- Whether the passenger-side airbag had been deactivated, and
- The rate at which the vehicle changed its speed after an impact.
Commercial trucks often record and transmit information in real time to fleet owners, including the truck’s location and speed. Most cars store five seconds of pre-crash data in the EDR.
EDR and Accident Reconstruction
The federal Driver Privacy Act provides that data in an EDR belongs to the car’s owner. It is not automatically available to anyone else, although it may be accessible through a subpoena or court order. Several states have also passed laws that prohibit downloading from an EDR without the owner’s consent.
In many cases, a driver’s own data will prove that that the victim was not at fault. For example, if the other driver claims that the victim was driving substantially over the speed limit, EDR data could prove that the victim was not speeding.
EDR data could also be useful in product liability cases. For example, if an airbag deployed without good reason, EDR data could prove that the airbag shouldn’t have activated.
The meaning of EDR data is not always easy to figure out. An accident reconstruction engineer or technology expert is sometimes needed to interpret the data.
Accident reconstruction experts determine how accidents were caused by examining damage to vehicles, paint transfers, skid marks, gouges in the road, and the positions of the vehicles after they came to rest. They take measurements and apply the laws of physics to help them reconstruct the accident. The data from one or both EDR units can contribute critical information to the expert’s analysis.
Guarding Your Data After an Accident
Since EDR data can be misinterpreted, victims can hurt their cases by making it available to the insurance adjuster representing the other driver. At the very least, a vehicle owner should not consent to let anyone download the EDR data until the victim has discussed that decision with his or her attorney.
When the accident victim’s car is a total loss, the victim might be asked to surrender it for salvage value in exchange for settling the property damage claim. The car may contain important evidence, including the EDR data. Never release a car without first consulting with a car accident lawyer. The lawyer may want an investigator or an accident reconstruction expert to inspect and photograph the car and to remove the EDR before the car is released or sold for salvage.