Black boxes, also known as event data recorders, are used in an estimated 90 percent of cars made today. This information is not available to third parties.
For now, the information in these black boxes is not voluntarily available to plaintiffs and defendants or insurance companies. However, this is about to change in 2013. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will mandate that all vehicles with a black box must record the same data in the same format by 2013, and there has to be a tool available to access this data.
Event data recorders have been around a long time. In fact, since the 1970s they have been used in airplane crash investigations. These boxes provide all sorts of critical information that will help investigators, and soon lawyers, get the kind of information they need for a lawsuit.
Attorneys will have access to a real treasure trove of information that includes the speed of the vehicle just before impact, if the driver applied the brakes, seatbelt use and any changes in forward speed, for example. The data recorder takes a system snapshot of a lot more than that, and will provide vital information for lawsuits. In other words, car wreck lawsuits and concerns about owner privacy will take center stage in 2013 and beyond.
There are 13 states that have chosen to pass a law that requires an owner’s permission to download the black box data. However, this raises some questions. For instance, who is the owner when the accident happened – is it the registered person, the one that holds the title, or the main driver? Additionally, if a driver refuses to provide black box information, is that considered an obstruction of justice and impeding an investigation.
There are other issues that many people would not be aware of, and the biggest one concerns the destruction of data, either intentionally or unintentionally. Computer errors, malfunctioning, and product negligence could come into play. The legal term for data and evidence that goes missing or is compromised is called spoliation.
Evidently, the black box only stores information for roughly six to eight weeks of normal use, or conversely, what the industry refers to as 200 ignition cycles. That means if the vehicle is sold, destroyed or there are more than eight weeks of use, the data may be lost.
Those considerations aside, these black boxes will have a valuable role to play in determining liability for an accident. They will also clearly show whether or not the injuries alleged are the result of the accident and match the science of how the accident happened. Currently, if a case goes to court, the determination of injuries is typically done by testimony by the doctor treating the injured victim. With the advent of access to black box information, you may expect to see motions being made by insurance adjusters and lawyers, to preserve evidence.
One thing is certain – litigating car accident cases and other vehicle crashes will get a lot easier with black box information. After all, the black box does not lie and trying to beat it would be difficult, if not impossible.
Charlie Donahue is a New Hampshire personal injury lawyer located in Keene. Donahue handles injury cases in New Hampshire and across the United States. To learn more about New Hampshire injury attorney, Charlie Donahue, visit Donahuelawfirm.com.