Event Data Recorders: Problems and Possibilities With "Black Boxes"
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.