Does Your Car Have A Little Black Box? The Information It Carries Could End Up Being Important To Your Case

Airplanes have been carrying them for decades: "the little black boxes," or event data recorders (EDRs), that are searched for after every plane crash in order to see if it can explain what happened to cause the crash. Did you know, though, that you're probably driving with your very own little black box? Not only that, but an EDR could play a major role one day in court if you end up suing someone—or being sued—for an accident. This is what you should know.

Does your car have an EDR in it?

Probably. Car and truck manufacturers have been quietly installing EDRs to new vehicles since 1996, though to varying degrees and with varying capabilities. In 2014, EDRs became mandatory in all new U.S. vehicles and there are now official standards that control what they record, including the vehicle's speed, throttle position, the use of the brakes, seatbelt use, engine speed, the direction of movement, accelerations, and the force of impact. By that point, however, 96% of new cars on the market already had them. If you still aren't sure if your vehicle has one, you can check the owner's manual carefully to find out.

If you're involved in an accident, the odds are very good that your vehicle, the other vehicle, or both vehicles will have an EDR that can be used to help reconstruct the accident.

How can you get the information from the EDR? 

Generally speaking, you own the black box that's attached to your car, which means that you can pay to have it downloaded and interpreted if you are trying to prove that you're not at fault (or that someone else is) for an accident. Your data retrieval has to be done by an expert, so it is costly. For example, one company charges $425 per car inside their main service area. You may also have to pay for a forensic specialist who can take that data and compare it to "real world" information, like photos and witness statements, in order to come up with a narrative of the accident that jurors can understand.

If you want the information from the EDR attached to the other vehicle involved in your accident, you will probably have to get it through a subpoena, which is a legal tool that forces the other party in a civil suit to turn over potential evidence. Your attorney will know how to petition the court to grant the subpoena for the evidence.

How important is the data from the EDR?

Not every accident may need to involve the data from the EDR, but they're bound to be of significant importance when there's a dispute over who was at fault, what order certain events occurred in, how fast someone was driving or when they put on the brakes, and so on. They're also likely to be useful in multi-car events, where liability can be harder to determine. If someone was seriously injured or killed, EDR data could also determine whether or not criminal charges are involved.

For example, in a fatal car crash that involved celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, the black box data was expected to be cross-referenced with the celebrity's cell phone data to see how the information overlapped before there was any decision to charge her with the other driver's death. The accident was a multi-car event, which made determining liability particularly tricky. Ultimately, no criminal charges were filed, but Jenner may still find herself dealing with the data from the EDR in any civil suits that follow. 

This gives you an idea about how important an EDR could be to your case—it also gives you an idea of the sort of evidence that can be found even when nobody was around to actually see an accident happen. For more information, discuss the issue with a car accident attorney, like Loughlin Fitzgerald P C, today.