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Why Your Black Box Data Isn't Enough: An Accident Reconstruction Can Validate Your Download

The vast majority of vehicles on the road today contain a “black box”. Within the last 15 years or so, automakers have implemented a collision-related recording device into their vehicles that can be accessed digitally though the vehicle’s OBDII port. In many instances, a vehicle’s black box data may be available after a crash occurs. The black box, otherwise known as an Event Data Recorder (EDR), stores certain information regarding an impact. Oftentimes, many attorneys use this information at face value when providing legal representation and advocacy to their involved clients. The problem with this is that the data that is collected during a black box download may not be sufficient to tell the story behind the crash. In this post, we will consider the limitations of black box data, and discuss some of the shortcomings as well as how to work around them to better serve your clients and end up with a successful outcome.


Part 1: The Origin of the Black Box


Taken from the world of aviation, the term “black box” is simply another way of discussing the brain of a vehicle that stores impact related data that is useful when determining who is at fault and even the impact severity sustained by a vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has imparted some explanation as to the origin of black boxes. In their words (read more here), the black box or EDR is used to define criteria used by the vehicle in assessing impact severity, which is, in turn, used by the vehicles safety system. Airbags are determined to be deployed based on the black box data, which is constantly monitoring things such as vehicle speed, braking level, and impact deceleration rate (delta-V). From the automakers standpoint, this is all that they care about - determining whether or not to fire airbags is generally considered the decision that the black box decides, and the systems are generally designed for this objective. From a litigation standpoint, this data can be useful because it can help determine if the driver was potentially speeding or whether or not they applied brakes and were attentive before impact, not to mention the ability to quantify the impact severity to help correlate injuries.


Part 2: The Problems with Black Box Data


While many attorneys are satisfied with the information provided by obtaining black box data, it is important to realize some of the limitations. For example, most black boxes only store a brief amount if pre-impact information. Typically only the 5 seconds before impact is considered. This makes it difficult to determine a driver’s pre-impact behavior before the black box begins recording. Another limitation is that the black box system is only capable of recording certain criteria, which is different based on year, make, model, and even sub-model of vehicle. There is no guarantee that data types will be consistent between model years of the same vehicle. That being said, typically the impact severity (delta V) information is recorded in most cases.


Most importantly, it is always necessary to match the black box data with the physical evidence from the accident. This requires a specialized eye from a forensic accident reconstructionist to perform accurately. If the recorded data does not match the physical evidence, tire marks, vehicle crush, pre-impact vehicle behavior, and post impact to rest information, then the black box data could be unrelated to the particular accident or even improperly recorded or compromised by the vehicle itself. For this reason, it is imperative that black box data is properly vetted before being relied upon or used in litigation.


Part 3: How to Use Black Box Data to Your Advantage


If the data from the black box has been successfully retrieved from the damaged vehicle, the next step is to contact us directly for proper analysis of the information that was downloaded. We have the experience and expertise to thoroughly assess the data from the impact, and provide you with an easy to understand explanation of the vehicle crash. At this point, we can also most likely determine if the black box data is valid and usable. In most cases, physical evidence can also be reviewed to determine if it matches the black box data. Once we have vetted the data for you, we’ll share any problems that may arise in using the data, based on the specifics of the crash.

It is important to realize that much of the data retrieved can be difficult to understand at first. Reach out to us if you need help understanding the download. For more information on black box downloads, refer to our FAQ’s on the black box page.

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