New York Car Crashes–Black Box Data Will Change Everything

Event data recorders (EDR), more popularly known as black boxes, have been around since the 1970’s, and are well known as an invaluable tool in the investigation of plane crashes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA), as of 2008, between 65% and 90% of cars now manufactured are equipped with EDR’s. However, the data from EDR’s is not readily available to third parties such as insurance companies and litigants in car crash cases.

This will all change in 2013, when the NHTSA will require that all vehicles which contain black boxes must capture the same data in the same format. Further, the federal agency will mandate that there be a tool available to access the data. And what is that data? A treasure trove of information, including: Change in forward speed of the vehicle; maximum change in forward speed; vehicle speed prior to impact; whether or not the driver applied the brake; whether the driver was using his or her seat belt; the number of crash events; and the time between the two crash events, if applicable. This is a sampling, but not all that the EDR can record.

Due to the number of cars that will have black boxes and access to this data, the world of auto accident litigation will change in dramatic ways over the next several years. In a concession to privacy concerns, 13 states, including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington, have enacted laws requiring an owner’s permission to download the data. But who is an owner? In some states, such as California, the owner is the registered owner of the car. In New York, it is the titled owner. In Arkansas, it’s simply the owner of the vehicle at the time the accident occurred.

In addition to the aforementioned privacy issues, are concerns about what is known as spoliation, or intentional/negligent/unintentional loss of the data. The data in a black box is only temporarily stored, apparently for what is known as 200 “ignition cycles” or about 6 to 8 weeks of normal use of the vehicle. Thus, if the vehicle is destroyed, sold or more than 6 to 8 weeks of use occur in vehicles that are not as badly damaged, the information could be lost forever. Clearly, the data in a EDR will go a long way to either establishing, or in other cases, minimizing or refuting liability (fault in an accident). It will also assist in determining whether injuries claimed in an accident are consistent with the physics of an accident. Presently, this is often accomplished through the testimony of treating physicians, or in addition, in more serious cases, biomechancial engineers. Undoubtedly, there will be motions made by both insurance companies, and attorneys for those injured in car crashes, to preserve the EDR before this occurs. In sum, 2013 and beyond will be quite a different world in the field of automobile crash litigation, that is for certain.

If you or a loved one are injured in an automobile crash, any other type of accident, or due to a defective product, contact The Westchester County Injury Lawyers online or toll free at 888-761-7633 for a free consultation with an aggressive, experienced trial attorney to discuss your case in detail and outline your legal options.