The term black box is often discussed during the aftermath of airplane crashes; however, in recent years car manufacturers have been incorporating this technology into vehicles as well. Event data recorders (EDR), more commonly known as “black boxes,” are devices that record relevant data leading up to a car crash. Black box data is becoming a useful tool in personal injury litigation and for resolving factual disputes in dealing with insurance companies by giving accurate crash data. If you were involved in a car accident, it will be important to understand the purpose of “black boxes” and how it may be used in your case.

What is a black box?

Many drivers do not realize their vehicle has an EDR, recording the vehicle’s movements. They can be very useful in car accident litigation where the events surrounding the crash are in dispute, especially when there is a lack of witnesses to testify. EDRs are used by experts to reconstruct the accident and help determine who is at fault. The data recorded by black boxes include among other things speed, braking, force of impact, airbag deployment, seat belt usage, and steering wheel position. The devices record seconds leading up to the crash and during impact.

How will a black box be relevant in your case?

Indiana is an at-fault state, thus proving the other driver’s fault determines the amount recovered by the injured party. Insurance adjusters and defendant drivers will contest who was at-fault and each driver’s version of event can greatly differ. However, experts can download information from the recording device and use the EDR’s data to reconstruct the accident and determine the specifics that may be in dispute. Accident reconstruction experts can use relevant black box data, like speed upon impact, and evidence from the scene, such as time and road conditions, to create a professional opinion about what occurred leading up to and during the crash events. The expert’s opinion may create a better illustration of the car accident which could result in demonstrating the lack of fault on your clients; thus, more compensation for him or her.

With new technology comes new privacy issues. Black boxes only record seconds, not minutes, and generally are not used unless a collision occurs. EDRs do not record video or audio in the vehicle, and do not track driving habits. However, insurance companies have safe driving programs which policyholders can opt into that may track driving habits in exchange for lower rates. For example, major insurance companies like State Farm, Allstate, and Nationwide have safe driving programs that track driving habits through a smartphone app or additional device provided by the company. Unlike these programs, black boxes are more limited in their recorded data and accessible only by the vehicle’s owner. Pursuant to federal Driver Privacy Act of 2015, the owner or lessee of a vehicle owns the data recorded by the EDR and, with certain exceptions, prohibits nonowners from retrieving such data without consent.

If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to be aware of the potential use of event data recorders. The age, make, and model of your vehicle plays a role in whether your vehicle has a black box and the accuracy and depth of the information recorded.