Your Car’s Black Box: How Event Data Recorders Can Help or Hurt Your Case

We’ve all heard of the black box recovered from airplane crashes; but what about the Your Car's Black Box: How Event Data Recorders Can Help or Hurt Your CaseBLACK BOX IN YOUR CAR? Did you even know it was there? It is not the same thing as in a plane, of course, but event data recorders installed in cars can provide your attorney with a wealth of information to help prove your claim that the other side was at fault. In Virginia, you should have one if you have purchased a 2008 or later model car.

Black boxes have been installed in cars as far back as 1994 by General Motors. The intent of the boxes was to see how the cars performed in crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been collecting information from black boxes since the early 2000s to analyze accidents. By 2013, 96% of cars manufactured had black boxes, and as of September 1, 2014, all cars are required to have them.

What does the presence of the box or, more accurately, the collection of data by the box, mean to you as a car owner? It means that when the data is pulled after a crash, it will show, at a minimum, how fast you were moving and whether you were wearing your seat belt. More importantly, it will show information for the truck or car that hit you! Under the new requirements in 2014, the NHTSA requires that 15 things be recorded. Some of those are:

  1. Speed;
  2. Throttle position;
  3. Airbag deployment time;
  4. Whether the brakes were applied;
  5. Whether seatbelts were worn;
  6. Engine speed; and
  7. Steering angles.

All of these pieces of information would be very useful in the analysis of crashes for safety purposes. However, primarily in the context of large truck collisions, this information can be used to contradict the driver’s version of how the crash occurred, to prove his negligence. Unfortunately, in some circumstances this information would be fodder for insurance companies and defendants who want to take advantage of Virginia’s contributory negligence standard. For more information about contributory negligence in Virginia, see our blog here.

Some states, Virginia being one, have enacted laws governing the black boxes in motor vehicles. First off, car dealers must disclose to the buyer that the car is so equipped. That must be done in the owner’s manual. Second, the law dictates the circumstances under which the information may be accessed. There are seven permissible reasons for access, as follows:

  1. Owner’s consent;
  2. Court Order;
  3. Emergency investigation;
  4. Emergency medical care;
  5. Medical and vehicle safety research
  6. Diagnosis, service, or repair of the vehicle; and
  7. Civil discovery rules.

The discovery and use of this information in a lawsuit can obviously cut both ways. As a plaintiff, you can prove that you were doing nothing wrong at the time of the crash and avoid a contributory negligence defense. On the other hand, the data could show otherwise and not only damage your case, but bring it to an abrupt halt! On the bright side, Virginia’s law prohibits insurers from refusing to renew, or adjusting your rates, because you refused to share black box data.

At The Sandler Law Group, we know how to use the information from the truck’s black box to help prove your case and get you the recovery you deserve.  If you think the other side is not being truthful about how your crash occurred, ASK ABOUT IT!  Call us toll free 800-9-THE-LAW or (757) 627-8900 to schedule an initial FREE consultation. You may also contact us online at www.sandlerlaw.net or email us at GSandler@Sandlerlaw.net.

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