Vehicle Accident

What is a Black Box and How Can It Contribute to My Auto Accident Case?

car black box

If you’ve bought a car in the last several years, chances are that it comes with an extra feature you didn’t know about—a “black box” which records critical information about your car’s performance in the moments leading up to an accident. 

This also means that your car comes with an essential evidence collector built right into the onboard computer. 

Here’s what a black box is, how it works, and why it can make or break your auto accident case. 

What is a Car’s Black Box?

An event data recorder (EDR), popularly known as a black box, has been an essential tool in solving plane crashes for decades. Now, they’re a standard feature in every car sold in the last dozen years or so. 

Black boxes are part of your car’s onboard computer, wired into various components such as your GPS and braking system. 

They were originally introduced by General Motors in the 1970s in a basic form on airbag-equipped models. Nowadays, they’re integrated into every new car’s onboard computer system, though the type of data they collect and how automakers extract it varies between companies. 

Generally, black boxes collect physical vehicle performance data, such your speed, acceleration, braking, steering, and airbag deployment before, during, and after a crash. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) introduced a proposal in 2012 to require the use of EDRs in all passenger vehicles, but withdrew the proposal in 2019 because it found that nearly 100% of automakers installed black boxes voluntarily, typically to allow their engineers to better understand how the car operates in a crash and improve safety features in future models. 

What Information a Black Box Records

Under NHTSA regulation, there are 15 data inputs required for all vehicles with an EDR installed: 

  1. Delta-V, longitudinal (a.k.a. change in velocity)
  2. Maximum delta-V, longitudinal (maximum change in velocity)
  3. Time relative to maximum change in velocity
  4. Vehicle speed
  5. Engine throttle, % full
  6. Whether the service brake is on or off
  7. Ignition cycle, crash
  8. Ignition cycle, download
  9. Driver safety belt status
  10. Whether the frontal airbag warning light was on or off
  11. Deployment of driver airbag, as well as time to deploy (in the case of a single stage airbag) or time to first stage of deployment (in the case of a multi-stage airbag)
  12. Deployment of passenger airbag, as well as time to deploy (in the case of a single stage airbag) or time to first stage of deployment (in the case of a multi-stage airbag)
  13. Multi-event and the number of crash events
  14. Time between events
  15. Whether the complete data file was recorded or not

Depending on the automaker and car model, black boxes can collect more data than this, and while automakers are required to disclose the presence of the black box itself, they are not required to disclose all the data the box collects. 

In general, black boxes will store data in two situations: deployment and non-deployment events. If your airbags do not deploy, the data will be stored temporarily and will later be overwritten. If your airbags deploy, the EDR will permanently store data recorded in the seconds before and after the deployment occurred. 

How It Can Help (or Hurt) Your Accident Case

Black boxes can serve as vital evidence in an accident reconstruction, particularly in personal injury cases where liability is involved. 

Because the box records essential data about how the car behaved in the moments prior to a collision, it can help prove or disprove claims by either party about how they reacted and their role in the accident. 

However, black box data is rather difficult to obtain. You would need an accident reconstruction expert or someone trained in downloading the information stored in the black box to extract the data from your car and interpret the data to connect the dots for an insurance investigator and a jury. 

The good news about black box data is that while black boxes are not perfect at recording every incident, the data inside them is hard to dispute and even harder to tamper with. In fact, it’s illegal to tamper with EDRs in some jurisdictions, so empty black box data alone may be cause for concern in support of your accident case. 

Collecting Black Box Data to Build Your Case

Black box data requires an expert to collect and interpret, which is why you should contact an auto accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident. The attorneys of Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys have the experience and connections to ensure that you have access to the experts you need to make your case, and we won’t stop fighting until we get the results you deserve. If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.

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Evan Pappas

Evan Pappas's Bio

Evan Pappas is passionate about helping people that may have been injured in an accident; auto, trucking, motorcycle, medical negligence, police brutality, sex abuse and assault and others.