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What's In Your Car's Black Box?

Black boxes record critical details that occur within the seconds before and after an accident. This information can be used to establish liability for causing an automobile accident. It can also be used to establish the cause of injuries that were experienced at different locations within the vehicle.

Black Box Basics

The black box technology in automobiles is similar to that found within aircraft. Formally referred to as Event Data Recorders (EDRs), the devices are governed by guidelines and durability standards set by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Most EDRs continuously record information and rewrite over this information every few minutes. However, some EDRs only start to record once an accident takes place.

EDRs record information including when brakes were applied, the speed at the moment of impact, the steering direction, and whether passengers were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the accident. They also record which airbags were deployed, engine revolutions, the speed at which the airbags deployed, the force of the impact, and the path of the energy from the impact as it travels through the vehicle. In total, there are usually between 15-45 points of information that EDRs can be configured to record. These points are set by the vehicle manufacturer and can vary considerably between vehicles.

Extracting EDR Data

Following an impact, the information within the EDR can only be extracted by a professional equipped with the tools and training required to download the information. Catastrophic accidents such as those that involve extensive fire damage, or those where power was lost at the moment of impact, can significantly limit the amount of data that can be recorded. As of 2017, the data from most EDRs installed on vehicles can be extracted using the Bosch CDR device.

Using EDR Data in Court

EDR information can provide critical details that an auto accident attorney can use to establish liability for an accident. It can establish the actions of the driver before the accident, the effectiveness of the vehicle's safety systems, and the amount of energy/force that was transferred throughout the vehicle. This information can be used as evidence to establish whether a driver was speeding, whether the driver applied brakes and how much brake was applied, and whether safety systems performed as designed. It can also be used as supporting information to establish injuries that were sustained in the collision.

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