Black box technology serves up evidence

If you are currently driving a car or truck with factory installed airbags, you may already be driving with a Black Box or Event Data Recorder (EDR) under your seat or center console. General Motors has been installing event data recorders in all of their air-bag factory-equipped vehicles since the early 90’s. Their main job is to serve data to other systems, such as air bags, traction control and supplemental seat belt systems.

History of event data recorders

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been using EDR technology for decades to collect and study system data and vehicle safety. In an interview with Wired, GM’s senior manager of field incidents, stated: ‘In the early nineties we could get diagnostic data, seatbelt use and crash severity.’ Currently, we can get crash severity, buckle status, pre-crash data related to how many events the vehicle may have been in and brake application. The newest vehicles also can determine steering input and whether lane departure warning systems were turned on.

Regulation of event data recorders

NHTSAs ruling—NHTSA-2006-25666; 49 CFR Part 563 entitled: Event Data Recorders—will regulate the type of information recorded and the method in which it is stored. This ruling will affect all vehicles manufactured for North American consumers after September 1st, 2012 and will require all manufacturers make their EDR data available to the public. The rule further requires disclosure to new car buyers if an event data recorder has been installed, beginning with model year 2011 cars. The NHTSA ruling, however, permits states to determine how black box data may be used:

“This rule does not address certain other issues generally within the realm of State law, such as whether the vehicle owner owns the EDR data, how EDR data can be used/discovered in civil litigation, how EDR data may be used in criminal proceedings, whether EDR data may be obtained by the police without a warrant, whether EDR data may be developed into a driver-monitoring tool, and the nature and extent that private parties (including insurance companies, car rental companies, and automobile manufacturers) will have or may contract for access to EDR data. These issues are instead being addressed by State legislatures.”

Privacy concerns and legislation

Privacy groups have serious concerns about the use of black box information, i.e. who will be able to access the information and what purposes will that information serve? The National Motorist Association states: “… as is often the case, the personal, legal, and economic ramifications spawned by technological innovations far exceed superficial public explanations.”

In 2004, California became the first state to enact legislation prohibiting the download of data without the owner’s permission or court order. Several other states since have followed suit by addressing issues of ownership.

Data mining

Event data recorder information has consistently been used and evaluated by reconstruction experts in criminal prosecutions and accident-related litigation when the Court has so ordered. But the most concerning aspect of EDRs is data ownership. In an effort to minimize company losses, insurance companies are eager to mine this information and have been downloading the data to determine the degree of comparative fault in accident cases across the country by taking title to totaled vehicles and thereby establishing ownership via claims of property damage.

Future concerns will address how insurance companies will use this proprietary information. Will they require access to the data as a condition of coverage? Or will they use black box technology in conjunction with GPS systems for purposes of tracking driving habits and assessing risk? As with all developing technologies, the ownership and utilization of information will be determined. Ultimately, the Courts will decide these issues and  constitutionality will be challenged.

Personal injury attorneys experienced in accident reconstruction

Charlie Ward is a personal injury attorney in Indianapolis, IN with experience using black box data as evidence in wrongful death and personal injury claims.  Call Charlie of Ward & Ward Law Firm at 317-639-9501 today if you have been injured or know someone who has died from fatal injuries in an accident caused by a semi tractor-trailer.

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