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Black Box Car Crash Data

Most people associate the recording devices known as “black boxes” with airplanes and commercial trucks. What some don’t know is that most motor vehicles these days are equipped with black boxes known as event data recorders (also referred to as EDRs).

In 1994, General Motors (GM) became the first automaker to install event data recorders in their vehicles and was then followed by Ford in 1997, Toyota in 2001, and Chrysler in 2005. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that nearly 90 percent of cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and light trucks are equipped with event data recorders.

The most common kind of event data recorder is the Airbag Control Module (ACM). An ACM is a small metal box often located under the front passenger seat, and it captures and stores crash data.

Other kinds of event data recorders include the Pedestrian Protection Module (PPM), Roll Over Sensor (ROS), and the Powertrain Control Module (PCM). Retrieving the event data recorder will usually cost at least a couple thousand dollars.

If you suffered serious injuries or your loved one was killed in a car accident in the greater Columbus area, you may want to access your vehicle’s event data recorder to obtain important information about your crash. The Columbus car accident lawyers at the Rinehardt Law Firm have experience handling event data recorder cases and can help you obtain all of the compensation you need and deserve. Our firm has a Mansfield office in Ontario and a Columbus office in Westerville. Call (419) 529-2020 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

What Information is on Black Boxes?

NHTSA states that event data recorders are installed to record technical vehicle and occupant information for a brief period before, during, and after a crash. Data that may be recorded by a black box includes:

  • Post-crash data such as the activation of an automatic collision notification (ACN) system
  • Restraint usage or deployment status
  • Vehicle crash signature
  • Driver inputs
  • Pre-crash vehicle dynamics and system status

NHTSA published three documents in the Federal Register addressing particular questions about its role concerning event data recorders. Title 49 Part 563 of the Code of Federal Regulations establishes the federal standards for event data recorders.

Most of these statutes contain highly technical information, but event data recorders generally record technical vehicle and occupant information for a brief period of time. Under Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations § 563.7, recorded crash data must include, at a minimum, information about airbag deployment, seat belt use, acceleration, impact severity (Delta-V), braking, and speed (incrementally for the five seconds pre-crash).

Some event data recorders can contain additional kinds of information such as occupant presence or size, steering inputs, g-force, seat position, or shift position. Data can still be recorded even if an ACM does not activate or “wake up.”

Accessing Black Box Data

Diagnostic Link Connectors (DLCs), multi-pin diagnostic connection ports for motor vehicles, are often used to download event recorder date. The DLC port is underneath the steering wheel in most vehicles.

Another type of equipment that is supported on many 2016 model vehicles or newer is the Bosch Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) tool. Bosch CDR tools retrieve event data recorder data directly from the DLC of many vehicles, and any data stored in a vehicle’s ACM, Restraint Control Module, or other black box is downloaded and put into a report.

A technician usually connects a CDR tool to the vehicle’s data port to download information to a laptop computer, but some event data recorders could require removal. Modules are downloaded after being removed.

The data contained in an event data recorder stays in the event data recorder even after it is downloaded. A CDR tool captures an image of the data and produces a report based on that image, but it does not erase, remove, or otherwise change that information.

CDR reports are often several pages, but reports from older model vehicles may be fewer pages because they have less complicated control systems. It is possible for a seemingly major crash to result in no captured crash data while a low-speed collision leads to a tremendous amount of data. Crash data is only recorded when the forces of a crash are sufficient to activate the passenger restraint system.

How Black Box Data is Used in Car Crash Cases

An event data recorder can play an important role in providing a factual conclusion to issues that are disputed between two motorists. An event data recorder can show important information such as when brakes were deployed, what a motor vehicle’s top speed was before impact, and engine revolutions per minute (RPM).

Event data recorder information can also be extremely helpful in cases in which insurance companies doubt the severity of injuries because of minimal damage to the vehicles involved. A black box can show a vehicle’s g-force and Delta-V acceleration in addition to other statistics that can be used to prove injuries.

An article that originally appeared in the Accident Reconstruction Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1, Jan/Feb 2008, stated that event data recorder evidence has been accepted by the courts in 19 states and twice by federal courts. The five appellate decisions upholding event data recorder evidence included two cases in Illinois and one each in Florida, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

Event Data Recorder Laws

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 17 states have enacted statutes relating to event data recorders and privacy. Ohio is not one of those states.

On December 4, 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Driver Privacy Act of 2015, which was part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. Section 24302 of the act addressed ownership of the data and privacy relating to event data recorders.

The Driver Privacy Act stated that any data retained by an event data recorder is the property of the owner or the lessee of the motor vehicle. Data recorded or transmitted by an event data recorder cannot be accessed by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the event data recorder is installed unless:

  • A court or other judicial or administrative authority authorizes retrieval of the data and the data is subject to the standards for admission into evidence;
  • The owner or lessee provides written, electronic, or recorded audio consent to the retrieval of the data for any purpose; or
  • The data is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under federal law and the personally identifiable information of an owner or a lessee of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number (VIN) is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved data.

Other sections of the act address other situations in which law enforcement agencies or other organizations can access an event data recorder.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney Today

Did you sustain catastrophic injuries or was your loved one killed in a motor vehicle crash in Ohio? Make sure that you contact an attorney to discuss your case and your legal options.

The record of success for the Rinehardt Law Firm includes a $350,000 verdict for a victim rear-ended by a negligent driver and a $450,164 verdict for another victim rear-ended by a negligent driver. Our lawyers can help you understand all of your legal options as soon as you call (419) 529-2020 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

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