What is a vehicle data recorder?

What Information Does a Black Box Hold?Most newer cars are equipped with a vehicle data recorder, also known as an event data recorder or black box.  The device monitors the vehicle and stores information about accidents and other information.  This information can be used to uncover information about the cause of an auto accident. In most vehicles, the black box is found in the powertrain control module or the airbag control module.

Types of Information Preserved in the Vehicle Data Recorder

Black boxes have been used in vehicles since 1994, but did not become widespread until the mid-2000s. They only work when the vehicle is turned on, so they will not provide any information when there is no battery power.

Black boxes record a wide range of information that can be useful in the event of an accident.

  • Speed
  • Acceleration
  • Steering angles
  • Throttle position
  • Braking
  • Force of impact
  • Vehicle roll angle
  • Use of ABS
  • If electronic stability control was on or off
  • How many crash events occurred
  • Airbag deployment times
  • Seatbelt use
  • How far forward the driver's seat was positioned
  • Size of seat occupants

There is no one standard type of black box. This means that the length of time data is preserved from a crash varies according to make and model. Most black boxes record around 20 seconds of data before a crash, but some can record as few as 2.5 seconds of information.

Data Access and Potential Privacy Concerns

You can find out if your vehicle has a black box by referring to your owner's manual. However, there is no easy way to turn off the black box or opt out of having your data recorded. This has led to many complaints from activists who believe that the use of black boxes constitutes an invasion of privacy and those who believe black box data may be vulnerable to hackers.

California law views black box data as the property of the vehicle owner. In most cases, it can only be accessed with your consent or a court order. However, it is also permissible to access data to perform vehicle safety research and to diagnose, service, or repair the vehicle.  This information may also be accessed in a civil suit with a subpoena or through discovery.

There are products that can lock your vehicle's diagnostics port, such as AutoCYB, OBD Lock, and OBD Saver. This means that nobody can plug in the tools needed to access black box data without your permission. However, you are still required to turn over your data if presented with a court order or subpoena.

Using Black Box Data as Evidence in Your Personal Injury Claim

Black box data can be used in an auto accident personal injury claim to establish fault. The data could theoretically be used in any type of case, but is most useful when the accident involves a fatality, parties who don't remember the crash, or contradictory testimony from the drivers involved. Black box data can also be used to corroborate claims of certain types of injuries, such as whiplash from rapid acceleration and deceleration. In product liability cases, such as those involving the widely publicized defective GM ignition switches or the Toyota unintended acceleration crashes, black box data may offer proof of manufacturer negligence.

If you want to use black box data as evidence, you must act quickly. The devices will only keep data for about one month before they start to record over the information. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to begin the process of accessing and interpreting the black box data from your own vehicle or the other driver's vehicle.

To protect the integrity of the data, your attorney will want to:

  • Get a preservation of evidence order.
  • Invite all parties to attend the download process.
  • Prepare a download protocol and get the consent of all parties involved.
  • Videotape the download process.
  • Photograph key stages and readouts from the computer.

The legal team at Empire Law Group is dedicated to helping California residents receive personal injury compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering following an auto accident. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation at either our Victorville or Rancho Cucamonga office.