Posted On: October 21, 2006 by Christopher T. Hurley

Does your car have a "black box?"

You may have a “black box” in your car and not even know it. And so far, automakers have had no obligation to tell you if the device is even in you car. However, under a new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers will be required, starting with the 2011 model year, to tell new car buyers if an Event Data Recorder (EDR) has been installed in the vehicle.

Event Data Recorders are electronic devices that capture crash data in the few seconds before, during and after a crash. They are similar to the devices carried on commercial airliners. EDRs do not capture any data unless there is a collision that is severe enough to cause the airbag to deploy. While automakers are not required to install EDRs, approximately 64 percent of the model year 2005 passenger vehicles came equipped with the device. Unfortunately, the new rule will not require automakers to install EDRs if they are not already doing so. The rule will require automakers who have chosen to install EDRs to note in the owner’s manual that the safety monitoring equipment has been installed.

The rule also includes new requirements designed to ensure that the data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety. For example, the rule requires EDRs to be more durable to protect data during a crash. The rule also requires automakers to collect a consistent set of crash data if they chose to install an EDR.

If you are in a collision that is serious enough to cause air bag deployment, always assume that your vehicle or the other vehicles involved are equipped with an EDR or “black box” until proven otherwise. The data recorded by the black box from the various events that would take place at the moment of the collision may include:

--Speed the vehicle was traveling
--Whether the accelerator pedal pressed
--Whether the brake applied
--How many crash events? 1 or 2? E.g., sideswipe followed by a head-on crash
--Time between two crash events (if applicable)
--What steering operations occurred in the 5 seconds preceding the crash?

Thus, the vehicles involved in a collision and any EDR’s or “black boxes” in the vehicles are critical pieces of evidence, and they must be preserved and protected from tampering or destruction in order to prove fault. Insurance companies, tow truck drivers, the police and corporate defendants will often, whether intentionally or unintentionally, destroy or misplace this key evidence.

If you or a family member or friend are involved in a collision involving air-bag deployment and injury, it is crucial that you contact a trial lawyer experienced in handling these cases, so that we can seek an immediate court order to preserve the evidence for scientific analysis by our experts.

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