Black Box Technology

When people hear the term “black box” they often associate the technology with airplanes and airplane crashes. But what many people don’t know is that their own personal vehicles may contain a black box as well. Black boxes in vehicles have been used to monitor airbags for nearly two decades, and black boxes or Event Data Recorders (EDRs) are in 96 percent of vehicles that have been produced in the last year.

The EDRs in vehicles work almost the same as a “black box” in an airplane does. EDRs are constantly recording data, but they only save a segment of data that precedes a crash. Car manufacturers voluntarily put these devices in their cars, and it usually goes unnoticed by the consumer and is often unregulated as well.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is pushing to mandate that all new vehicles come equipped with EDRs. Just this year, NHTSA initiated a final ruling which set minimum standards as to the data that must be recorded if auto manufacturers choose to include an EDR in their vehicles. A minimum requirement for crash data that must be recorded includes the vehicle’s speed just prior to the impact, throttle and brake application, seat belt use, and airbag deployment.

Although the new standards address what the EDRs must record, they leave out what the data may be used for, and who can collect the crash data. Today there is no national standard as to who the crash data belongs to or who has permission to use that data. Many states are taking matters into their own hands by declaring who is entitled to retrieve the data. Among many questions surrounding the EDRs, one of the greatest is “What can the data be used for?” Automakers, law enforcement agencies, insurance companies and individuals involved in civil litigation could all potentially use this data for many reasons.

The NHTSA is attempting to have the use of EDRs and what they record standardized. No matter who is allowed to access this data or what data is recorded, it is important to preserve the EDR after an accident. Clues that are needed to piece together what happened in a collision are often times recorded in an EDR. For this reason it is important to preserve the EDR after an accident and to be able to retrieve the data as the law permits.

Benny Agosto, Jr. is a partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner in Houston, Texas. For over 65 years, Abraham Watkins has successfully represented injured people and families who fall victim to catastrophes. Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to obtain just compensation their clients. For more information, please contact the office of Benny Agosto, Jr. at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner, by letter at 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, or by phone at (713) 222-7211.