Automobile Black Boxes Serving Up Evidence in Criminal, Civil Cases
Many Maine residents first learned about automobile black boxes after the highly publicized 2004 traffic accident involving then-Governor John Baldacci. While the accident was noteworthy for injuring the governor and his driver, of more interest was the investigation which followed, because the governor, his driver, and State Police disputed black box data that indicated excessive speed and that the governor was not wearing his seatbelt.
Automobile black boxes first hit U.S. highways in 1994, mostly to monitor air bag performance. Commonly referred to as Event Data Recorders (EDRs), the early black boxes were rather simple with few recorded driving parameters—speed, RPM, brake status, airbag deployment status, seatbelt status. Today’s EDRs include parameters such as:
- Percentage throttle
- Brake status
- Seatbelt status
- Seat position
- Ignition cycle count
- ABS status
- Traction control and stability control status
- Driveline torque
- Cruise control status
- Transmission status
- Roll angle
Most U.S. Cars Now Carry Automobile Black Boxes
As of 2017, most cars driving on U.S. highways are equipped with some form of EDR. Since 2014, these data recorders have been mandatory in all new U.S vehicles.
Black Box Data Meeting Legal Evidence Standards
Product liability cases involving premature airbag deployment were among the first civil cases involving EDRs. Today criminal prosecutions and civil cases involving traffic accidents increasingly use evidence from EDRs. Data from EDRs and testimony from experts interpreting the data has been ruled admissible by courts in many states. Some courts treat EDR data as scientifically reliable and acceptable as a matter of law. However, other courts have rejected EDR data as evidence. A New Jersey court found that the EDR data presented in a civil case was scientifically reliable, but excluded it as evidence because the manufacturer’s engineer admitted that the EDR “readout tool” was a prototype and thus the data could not be verified. The Constitution also plays a role, such as when a Tennessee court excluded EDR data offered by the prosecution because it had been procured through a warrantless search.
Who Owns the Data from the Black Box?
Congress passed the Driver Privacy Act of 2015, clarifying that EDRs are the property of the owner or leaser of the vehicle. Access to EDR data under federal law is allowed with the owners’ consent and under certain circumstances such as by court order.
The federal legislation is similar to laws passed in 17 states, including Maine. EDR access under Maine law is allowed with owner consent or by court order, by law enforcement acting under lawful authority, by routine discovery in civil or criminal proceedings and in other situations specifically defined in the statute 29-A M.R.S.A. section 1972.
What Does This Mean for You?
The car accident attorneys at Fales & Fales are familiar with the rise of EDRs as evidence in motor vehicle accidents. Here is an example of data from an EDR report in a recent case where the vehicle that caused the crash failed to brake:
|Seconds Before Crash||Vehicle Speed (MPH)||Seconds Before Crash||Brake Status|
If you’ve been involved in a motor vehicle accident and have suffered injury or property damages as a result of another driver’s negligence, contact Fales & Fales, P.A. for a free consultation online, or by calling (888) 526-9408.