Black Boxes and Their Role in Accident Reconstruction

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In addition to being flight recorders, "black boxes" also refer to onboard data recorders used in motor vehicles. A more technical name for a black box is electronic data recorder (EDR).

As reported by USA Today, trucking companies are divided on the issue of installing EDRs in their fleets. The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the largest trucking industry trade association in the United States, reported that EDRs reduce hours of service violations. The trucking firm, Schneider National, required EDRs for all trucks in its 13,000 fleet. It claims EDRs considerably reduced crash incidents. The company's internal study revealed driver fatigue as the major cause of crashes in 2010 where the trucking company or driver was at fault.

Today, many automobiles also contain black boxes. To address privacy issues, California passed its own EDR legislation. Vehicles owners' manuals must disclose whether the vehicle is equipped with an EDR.

What does an EDR record?

  • Vehicle speed and direction

  • History of where the vehicle traveled

  • Steering performance

  • Brake performance, including whether brakes were applied before an accident

  • Driver's seatbelt use

EDRs transmit accident information to a central communications system. State  law prohibits information from being downloaded or retrieved by anyone except the vehicle owner - unless the owner gives consent, a court orders it, or for motor vehicle safety or medical research reasons related to accidents the data is used without identifying the owner. The other exception would be use for a dealer to diagnose, service or repair a vehicle.

Whenever appropriate, lawyers can request EDR information as part of discovery and establish a chain of custody. EDR information is valuable for reconstructing accidents and can become evidence in a case. Expert witnesses analyze black box data during accident reconstruction to determine causation. Depending on the skills and reputations of expert witnesses, courts often regard their professional opinions given during testimony as fact.

Topics:  Trucking Accident, Trucking Industry

Published In: Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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