The Black Box in Your New Car

It is not well known that 96% of all new vehicles sold in the United States this year will come equipped with a box known as an event data recorder, or commonly known as a “black box.”  The electronic device is designed to record the speed of a vehicle, the crash force at the moment of any impact and an array of other information about the automobile’s inner workings.  A representative of recently told CBS News “It really just takes a snap shot of the event,” meaning an accident.  The black box can also contain information as to whether or not the car’s brake was activated before a crash, the site of the impact and whether the vehicle’s seat belt was buckled before an accident.

In 2011, Timothy Murray, who at that time was the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, smashed his government issued automobile and survived, fortunately, without serious injuries.  He told the police that he had been wearing his seatbelt and driving at a safe speed.  The black box later proved him to be inaccurate, demonstrating that his car crashed at a speed of over 100 mph.

The Department of Transportation desires to make the black boxes mandatory for 2015 vehicles.  Consumer advocates are up in arms and argue that government officials have yet to provide consistent guidelines on how the data should be used and how privacy issues should be addressed.  Fourteen states have passed laws that hold that even though the data belongs to the vehicle’s owner, law enforcement officials and those involved in civil litigation can gain access to the black box’s information with a Court order.  Attorney Daniel P. Ryan of St. Louis is known to have successfully excluded evidence from a black box data recorder in a civil case on the grounds that the device is not fully reliable.  The black boxes are roughly the size of two decks of cards and are located under the center console.  They began usage in the 1990 model year when General Motors introduced them to conduct quality studies.

If you should have any questions about the use of event data recorders in automobiles, please give us a call.


– Bill Brennan

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