The car event data recorder installed under most vehicles’ hoods is becoming increasingly important in civil and criminal lawsuits. The device, colloquially known as the “black box,” stores data regarding a driver’s habits, and it is capable of detailing the events that take place during each trip in the car. As the boxes were long used by car manufacturers to record performance data, the new trend is to use the information stored as evidence from automobile accidents.
Roughly 96% of all new vehicles sold in the United States have a black box installed. National lobbies from car insurance companies, law enforcement, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hope that 100% of cars will have the black box installed by 2014.
Recently, the high-profile events in Massachusetts involving Lt. Governor Tim Murray increased awareness of the issues and exemplified how the black box data may be used by law enforcement or a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. According to reports, the Lt. Governor was involved in a car accident and was interviewed by state police at the scene. Lt. Governor Murray stated that he was not speeding and that he was wearing his seatbelt, but the black box in his car offered a different story. The black box installed in his vehicle recorded that the public official was driving over 100 mph. No one was injured in the accident, but the facts illustrate the potential evidentiary value of the data stored on a driver’s black box.
The national discourse is focused on articulating clear standards for when it is acceptable for law enforcement or parties in litigation to use this data. Currently, there is no such direction. On one hand, the information stored is essential to discovering the truth behind a car accident, but on the other hand, the availability of the data could raise concerns about a driver’s privacy rights.
Currently, 14 states have legislated regarding the use of black box data as evidence. In general, the uniform message of those laws is that the data belongs to the vehicle’s operator, but the information may be accessible via court order. The legislation has prompted attorneys to subpoena the information stored on vehicle’s black box in an attempt to prove (or disprove) liability in an automobile accident. The release of the information has resulted in some drivers losing coverage from their insurance companies, but has also been telling of the facts behind many motor vehicle accidents that have caused personal injury.
In other scenarios, the vehicle information stored in the black box has been used as evidence in products liability suits. A driver in Nevada was recently involved in a fatal car accident when his air bag failed to deploy. The information stored on the vehicle’s black box clearly showed that the vehicle was driving fast enough that the airbag should have deployed. This evidence was critical to proving that the airbag’s failure to deploy was a result of a defective device.
Obtaining black box information in the investigation of car accidents for use in personal injury or products liability cases can clearly be very valuable. “For most of the 100-year history of the car, it used to be ‘he said, she said,'” said Thomas Kowalick, an expert in event data recorders and a former co-chairman of the federal committee that set the standard for black boxes. The data collected by the vehicle’s black box and presented through expert testimony at trial would help a jury in assessing the credibility of what “he” said versus what “she” said.
If you or a loved one have been involved in a car accident resulting in personal injury or death, contact a Parker Scheer personal injury attorney today for a free consultation.