Mention event data records (EDR) or “black boxes” and most
people think of the devices sought after following aviation disasters.
Many will be surprised to learn that EDRs are also found in most cars
on the road today. In use since the 1970s and originally installed as
part of airbag systems, EDRs record data such as acceleration, speed,
braking, and bag deployment in the few seconds before and after a car crash.
In 2010, EDRs emerged as a critical legal issue when Toyota recalled more
than 8 million vehicles. When pressed to provide information recorded
on its black boxes during legal proceedings, Toyota was inconsistent in
producing data and left key columns in printouts blank, attributing delays
to the fact that it only had a single tool in the U.S. that could extract
and read EDR data. Thus, despite efforts to increase the quantity of EDR
readers and the quality of retrieved data, the details of what data is
recorded, how it is retrieved, processed, and analyzed continue to be
shrouded in secrecy.
Accessing EDR Information May Be Difficult
The 2010 Toyota recall was prompted by consumer complaints of
“sudden unintended acceleration” events, where crashes resulted from defective cars rather than driver error.
EDRs became an important component of subsequent litigation because of
the information these devices store around the time of a crash. If EDR
data showed that a driver had his or her foot on the brake, yet the car
still accelerated, it could verify that the car, and not the driver, was at fault.
Plaintiffs seeking such data, however, were met with incomplete data reports
that were often difficult to secure. Toyota, like most car manufacturers,
installed proprietary software in EDRs, limiting retrieval of information
in black boxes to only the company itself.
Who Owns the Data?
A second, but equally pressing concern surrounding EDRs, is who owns the
data that is collected. While the law states that the car’s owner
owns the data, many insurance contracts allow insurance companies to access
the data as well. When insurers are interested in assessing fault, they
may be able to access the EDRs in policyholders’ vehicles based
on provisions in the insurance contract requiring policyholders to cooperate
with the insurer.
Moreover, some states have laws which allow police officers to gather data
at crash sites without a warrant, and, in situations where the car owners
do not give consent, access to the data may be obtained through a court
order. Lastly, despite
rulings that ensure owners’ privacy, there can be inadvertent “leaks” by the car manufacturer.
For example, the
Nissan Leaf shares precise location information with websites accessed through its
built-in RSS reader.
Although they are useful tools in a crash investigation, EDRs also have
clear limitations that may lead to data being incorrectly recorded. If
you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, it is important
to verify the accuracy of the information that an insurance company may
review. Call The Pittman Firm to speak with an attorney who can help you
navigate this important process.