In the past, if you were in a car accident, the authorities had to reconstruct what happened based on the statements from the parties involved and from witnesses, damage to the vehicle, drug and alcohol tests, weather conditions, and the like. As a result, unless an accident happened in view of security cameras, it was often hard to say with 100 percent certainty what happened. Thanks to technology, all of that may be changing.
The technology that’s changing the way authorities, insurance companies, and others look at car accidents is known as the “black box” (a.k.a. event data recorders). It’s a piece of technology that’s buried within the car out of site of the driver but constantly collecting information. Black boxes first started appearing in cars in the mid ‘90s; however, today, they are in approximately 96% of all cars sold in the US, according to a recent article in LakeExpo.com.
The black box can record a surprising amount of data in the five seconds before and after a crash, including:
- Throttle position
- Velocity change
- Use of brakes
- Use of cruise control
- Use of seat belts
To some, the idea of a recorder tracking their driving may feel like being spied on. However, black boxes can be immensely helpful in the case of a car accident. Their primary function is to monitor a vehicle’s sensors to determine when safety features such as air bags should be deployed. In addition, they can separate fact from fiction and potentially save you from criminal charges or financial burden by proving that you obeyed the law.
Information from black boxes is admissible in court. Jackson County assistant prosecutor Traci Stansell said, “I don’t think I’ve had a case where I’ve had EDR data that didn’t end in a plea. It’s not a witness who can be contradicted. It’s right there in black and white.”
However, for all the good black boxes can do, they aren’t a perfect technology. The data on a black box is only saved if the air bags deploy or nearly deploy. In all other cases, the information is simply overwritten. This means that, in the cases of some car accidents, no data will be stored. In addition, since they lack air bags, motorcycles can’t utilize black boxes at this time.
Another concern in relying on black boxes is that law enforcement’s ability to extract and examine the data may be hampered by budgetary constraints. The data retrieval kits necessary for working with black boxes can run $10,000 to $15,000 each, meaning they simply aren’t feasible for smaller law enforcement agencies.
For those concerned about their privacy, in the majority of cases, the police ask a driver’s permission or get a search warrant before removing or examining a black box. In addition, states are working to catch laws up to the technology. Thus far, fourteen states have enacted laws to protect car owners from having their black box data used by third parties; unfortunately, Missouri is not one of those fourteen states.