Do I Have A Black Box EDR On My Car?


Accident investigation is a science. They use a ton of different tools including measuring ribbon, markers, and witnesses, as well as read wreckage and debris like a fortune teller reads tea leaves. But they are about to get a whole new tool in the form of a little black box.

You’ve probably heard of them being on airplanes, trains, and charter buses, but Electronic Data Recorders (EDRs) also occupy many other commercial vehicles and even some newer consumer vehicles. However, the black box data on many consumer vehicles has been considered proprietary to the car manufacturers and thus, not commonly used as evidence in determining fault, yet, that may soon change.

Legislation and Recalls

Government officials are now in the process of getting through rules that would require every new car sold in the U.S. include a ‘black box’ data recording devices similar to those used on buses and trucks now. The idea was endorsed this week by the U.S. National Research Council, following the closing of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) closing of the 2010-2011 investigation of sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles.

In 2010, Toyota conducted the world’s largest automotive recall, pulling nearly 10 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles from countries around the world. The car manufacturer insists that the problem was caused by gas pedals getting stuck under floor mats, which forced the car surge forward for miles as the drivers unsuccessfully attempted to brake and shift out of gear to no avail until the car finally decided to stop or they ran into a large object.

Many believe that the problem could have been rooted in errant electronic throttle control systems. In one of first cases, in Washington State, the parents of a young man who died from what was ruled as speeding, worked with Toyota, through their attorney, to obtain and examine data from the black box in his truck. Though Toyota vehemently resisted, they finally provided them with 5 seconds leading up to the crash showing that their son did not or was unable to brake before the accident.

The National Research Council (NRC) concluded that the safety agency was right to close its investigation after the NHTSA (assisted by NASA) was unable to find an electronic cause (or otherwise) of the Toyota sudden acceleration defect. However, the NRC suggested that the NHTSA must become more familiar with today’s sophisticated automotive electronics.

“Failures associated with electronics systems—including those related to software programming, dual and intermittent electronics hardware faults, and electromagnetic disturbances — may not leave physical evidence to aid investigations into observed or reported unsafe vehicle behaviors,” said the National Research Council.

A New Standard

The NHTSA has been working on a standardized system for recording data nearly a decade now. In 2004, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) came out with its first EDR, the IEEE 1616, which showed that it could be produced. In 2010, the organization rolled out their second generation of that model, the IEEE 1616a, and it looks as if that is quickly gaining favor with upper officials and may become the standard amongst the whole vehicle industry for cars driven in the United States.

The engineering group says that the IEEE 1616a aims to preserve the data quality and integrity needed to meet federal collection standards, while protecting consumers’ privacy. Built on more than a decade of MVEDR research and development by organizations including federal agencies, industry trade associations, and global automotive, truck, and bus manufacturers.

New safeguards on the IEEE 1616a are:

  • Data tampering – modification, removal, erasure, or otherwise rendering inoperative of any device or element, including MVEDRs;
  • VIN theft – duplication and transfer of unique VIN numbers, a process known as “VIN cloning”, enabling stolen cars to be passed off as non-stolen;
  • Odometer fraud – rolling back of vehicle odometers, resulting in the appearance of lower mileage values; and
  • Privacy – prevention of the misuse of collected data for vehicle owners.

“According to the World Health Organization, someone dies in a motor vehicle crash once every minute, and road crash fatalities have claimed 30 million lives globally since 1896,” said Tom Kowalick, Chair of the IEEE P1616a Working Group. “As millions of drivers today face ongoing automotive recalls for electrical and onboard computer issues, [EDRs] are playing an increasingly critical role in the analysis of the scientific data collected from these vehicles.”

Personal Injury and Black Boxes

In a personal injury case, as mentioned above, the accident investigation is extremely important. The reason for this is, in order to seek personal injury compensation there must be some record of negligence. Driving under the influence (DUI) is traceable through breathalyzer, field sobriety tests, and blood tests, however, other reckless behaviors such as speeding, tailgating, erratic driving, or distraction may need witnesses or only be told by skid marks.

With an EDR, the speed of the vehicle, braking, and immediate electrical history can help determine the cause of the crash and in turn, the person who caused it. This will go a long way in helping determine and expedite your settlement. Certainly, this information could at times work against the victim, as can any data, however, we are confident that the new rules will help get victims the justice and compensation they deserve.

Seattle Car Accident Lawyers

Phillips Law Firm has helped thousands of Washington residents and their families get the compensation they deserve after a serious car accident. If you or someone you know gets injured in a car accident you need an experienced representative to deal with the insurance companies to assure you the best settlement. Call the Seattle car accident attorneys at Phillips Law Firm for a free consultation.