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their families since 1952

Car Crash Data Retrieval

Black boxes are devices that many people commonly associate with airplanes or commercial trucks. In truth, virtually all modern automobiles also have “black boxes” officially known as event data recorders (sometimes abbreviated simply as EDRs).

The most common kind of event data recorder is the Airbag Control Module (ACM), a small metal box that is usually located under the front passenger seat. The ACM typically captures and stores crash data, but other kinds of event data recorders include the Powertrain Control Module (PCM), Roll Over Sensor (ROS), and Pedestrian Protection Module (PPM).

General Motors Company (GM) began installing event data recorders in their vehicles in 1994, Ford followed in 1997, Toyota started to in 2001, and Chrysler began in 2005. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimated that 64 percent of model year 2005 passenger cars and other light vehicles have some recording capability, with more than half being able to record data elements such as crash pulse data. NHTSA has since estimated that almost 90 percent of the cars, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and light trucks are equipped with event data recorders.

Event data recorders typically record a variety of information relating to car accidents. Many automobile manufacturers began installing event data recorders in their vehicles to understand better how cars perform in crashes, but it takes special technical training and equipment to access the information available on event data recorders. An experienced personal injury law firm should have the knowledge and resources to download black box data.

If you suffered severe injuries or your loved one was killed in a car crash in the state of Washington, it is in your best interest to retain legal counsel for assistance accessing information on your vehicle’s event data recorder. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to review the information on your black box and possibly use it to help you obtain compensation for your medical bills, lost income, and other damages.

The Law Offices of Briggs & Briggs represents car crash victims in Lakewood, Tacoma, Olympia, Puyallup, Chehalis, Bremerton, and many other surrounding areas of Washington. Call (253) 588-6696 or complete an online contact form to have our attorneys provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case during a free consultation.

Information on Event Data Recorders

According to NHTSA, event data recorders are installed to record technical vehicle and occupant information for a brief period before, during and after a crash. NHTSA states that some of the data that could be recorded by a motor vehicle black box includes:

  • Pre-crash vehicle dynamics and system status
  • Driver inputs
  • Vehicle crash signature
  • Restraint usage or deployment status
  • Post-crash data such as the activation of an automatic collision notification (ACN) system

NHTSA’s Office of Research Development formed a working group in 1998 to facilitate the collection and use of collision-avoidance and crashworthiness data from onboard event data recorders, and a second working group was sponsored in 2000. NHTSA has published three documents in the Federal Register addressing particular questions about its role concerning event data recorders.

Federal standards for event data recorders are established under Title 49 Part 563 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Under Code of Federal Regulations § 563.6, every vehicle equipped with an event data recorder must meet the requirements specified in Code of Federal Regulations § 563.7 for data elements, Code of Federal Regulations § 563.8 for data format, Code of Federal Regulations § 563.9 for data capture, Code of Federal Regulations § 563.10 for crash test performance and survivability, and Code of Federal Regulations § 563.11 for information in owner’s manual.

Many of these statutes contain highly technical information. Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations § 563.11 establishes that an owner’s manual in every vehicle covered under these regulations must provide the statement contained in the statute, which notifies an owner that their vehicle is equipped with an event data recorder, its primary purpose is to record data in specific crash or crash-like situations, and the types of data that are recorded.

In general, event data recorders record technical vehicle and occupant information for a brief period before, during, and after a crash. Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations § 563.7 states that recorded crash data must include at minimum information about speed (incrementally for the five seconds pre-crash), braking, impact severity (Delta-V), acceleration, seat belt use, and airbag deployment.

Event data recorders also contain many other kinds of information relating to g-force, steering inputs, and occupant presence or size. Additional information could include seat position, shift position, and information about various other systems.

The black boxes in motor vehicles are designed to record any event, which Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations § 563.11 defines as “a crash or other physical occurrence that causes the trigger threshold to be met or exceeded, or any non-reversible deployable restraint to be deployed, whichever occurs first.” An event usually means anything that causes an ACM to activate and determine deployment, but instances of sudden acceleration or deceleration are also recorded.

Data may still be recorded even when an ACM does not “wake up” or activate.

Accessing Event Data Recorder Data

In many cases, black box data can be downloaded using Diagnostic Link Connectors (DLCs), multi-pin diagnostic connection ports for motor vehicles. In most vehicles, a DLC port can be found underneath the steering wheel.

The Bosch Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) tool is another piece of equipment that is supported on a significant number of vehicles model 2016 or newer. Bosch CDR tools can retrieve event data recorder data directly from the DLC of several vehicles (view a full list of vehicles supported by Bosch CDR software).

CDR is the most common method used to collect electronically stored information from an event data recorder. Any data stored in the vehicle’s ACM, Restraint Control Module, or other event data recorder is downloaded and put into a report.

In most cases, a technician will connect a CDR tool to the vehicle’s data port and download this information to a laptop computer. In some cases, the event data recorder may need to be removed, and modules are downloaded after being removed from the vehicle.

Downloading CDR information does not remove, erase, or otherwise change information stored in an event data recorder. The CDR tool merely captures an image of the data and produces a report based on that image, but the data contained in an event data recorder stays in the event data recorder.

Certain event data recorders are only accessible through manufacturers’ proprietary systems. In these cases, it can be more difficult for technicians to obtain the tools needed to perform the downloads, the data may be less secure, and the process can be more expensive.

A CDR report is usually several pages. Reports from older model vehicles are generally fewer pages than newer models that have more complicated control systems.

Crash data is only recorded when crash forces are enough to activate the passenger restraint system, and the electrical system, ACM, or other event data recorders are functioning correctly. It is possible for a severe crash to result in no captured crash data, while a low-speed collision produces an enormous amount of data.

Recorded crash data can be overwritten, sometimes in as few as 250 ignition cycles when a vehicle is regularly driven. Some event data recorders are configured such that data is stored and is only overwritten when there is a subsequent crash or another event. Generally, crash data from an incident resulting in airbag deployment cannot be overwritten while non-deployment events do not result in data being locked.

In recent years, there has been a growing concern with event data recorders being hacked. As more automobiles become computer-controlled, hackers may try to access event data recorders.

Black boxes on most vehicles are accessible, so any person with access and the right tool may be able to obtain the information. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) submitted a statement to the United States Senate in advance of a hearing on Driving Automotive Innovation and Federal Policies in which it stated that connecting cars to the internet created safety and privacy risks, and researchers had been able to hack into and take control of connected vehicles.

How Black Box Data is Used in Car Crash Cases

In many cases, event data recorders can help resolve discrepancies between the two versions of events recalled by the motorists involved in a traffic accident. One driver may claim that the other was speeding and failed to brake while the other motorist may claim they were operating legally and made an effort to avoid the crash.

An event data recorder can show what a motor vehicle’s top speed was in the seconds before impact as well as whether brakes were deployed. Other data that can help demonstrate a driver’s actions in the moments before a crash include the use of the accelerator pedal and engine revolutions per minute (RPM).

Event data recorders can also be useful when a person suffers injuries, but the exterior of the vehicle is not damaged enough to lead the insurance company to believe the injury claim. Event data records can show a vehicle’s Delta-V and g-force acceleration, among other statistics, that help establish the mechanism of an injury.

Event data recorder information admissibility has passed the Frye standard (or general acceptance test for scientific evidence) and been admitted in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Washington courts have not explicitly addressed event data recorder information admissibility, but the Court of Appeals of Washington assumed the reliability of EDR data in Cook v. Tarbert Logging, Inc., 190 Wash. App. 448 (2015), which involved spoliation of event data recorder evidence.

The Court of Appeals wrote:

“As explained by the experts who testified at trial, the airbag icon that lights up on the dashboard during a vehicle’s operation indicates that the ACM is working, streaming data about the key aspects of the vehicle’s operation that inform whether to trigger the explosion that will deploy airbags. Among operating information continually being streamed through an ACM are the vehicle’s speed, the engine’s speed, the percent throttle, the brake switch circuit status, and the driver’s seat belt status. An ACM is programmed with an algorithm that determines within milliseconds whether the operating information collectively signals a crash, in which case airbags will be deployed. After deployment, the ACM retains information that was streaming through it for up to five seconds “before algorithm enable.” Clerk’s Papers (CP) at 14. If the vehicle is one for which software and hardware for reading retained data are available to the public, then according to experts in the trial below, the data is ‘very useful’ in determining precrash speed. Report of Proceedings (RP) (Aug. 27, 2013) at 1207.”

Washington State Event Data Recorder Laws

In 2009, Washington passed legislation, which requires a manufacturer of a motor vehicle equipped with a recording device to disclose in the owner’s manual that the car is equipped with such a device. The bill also requires disclosure of the type of data recorded and whether the device can transmit information to another device, prohibits the unlawful disclosure of data recorded by such devices, and requires that manufacturers make commercially available tools to access information on such devices.

State laws relating to event data recorders can be found in Chapter 46.35 of the Revised Code of Washington. Disclosure in an owner’s manual, subscription service agreement and product manual is covered under Revised Code of Washington § 46.35.020, while confidential information is established under Revised Code of Washington § 46.35.030 and a violation of this statute is a misdemeanor.

Revised Code of Washington § 46.35.030 states that information on an event data recorder is the property of the vehicle owner and can only be retrieved with the owner’s consent or pursuant to a court order.

Contact The Law Offices of Briggs & Briggs Today

Did you sustain severe injuries or was your loved one killed in a motor vehicle crash in Washington? You will want to quickly seek legal representation for assistance accessing your vehicle’s event data recorder and identifying the cause of your accident.

The Law Offices of Briggs & Briggs will conduct a diligent independent investigation of your crash and make sure all negligent parties are held fully accountable. You can have our lawyers review your case and answer all of your legal questions when you call (253) 588-6696 or contact us online to receive a free consultation.