The Black Box Battle and How It May Affect Car Accident Claims

The Black Box Battle and How It May Affect Car Accident Claims

After a car accident, unfortunately, it is common for the parties involved to get into a dispute about who was to blame for the accident. He said/she said are not uncommon, and this is because the party that is liable has to pay (or their insurance company has to pay) the faultless driver for damages, medical expenses, etc.

It can be difficult to parse out what actually happened in a car accident. In a trial, for example, parties will call their accident reconstruction experts to portray their version of what happened, and other experts will be called to testify as to what probably happened. When filing a claim with insurance companies (either your own or the other party’s), the insurance claim adjuster may attempt to do anything in his/her power to lower the size of the check that you receive.

New technology may provide some answers to these situations. Specifically, almost all cars (and especially newer models) now come equipped with an “event data recorder,” also known as a “black box.” Like the more well-known black boxes in airplanes, the black boxes in automobiles give information back to car manufacturers as to the performance of their vehicles, but the information stored can also identify safety issues that present themselves in these cars and as evidence in traffic and criminal cases. The data recorder identifies and stores various pieces of information immediately before and after a car collision. As one can imagine, this significantly improves the likelihood of accurate accident reconstruction.

Some, including in the government, believe that black box data is valuable to understand safety issues in cars that they should be installed in every car. In addition, many states have passed laws allowing the use of black box information in civil litigation with a court order. However, the use of this data has raised eyebrows with respect to privacy concerns. Privacy advocates are concerned about the ramifications of allowing such information (which could include a person’s driving and commuting habits, etc.) into the public sphere. These advocates argue the black box could be misused, for example, by insurance companies to raise a driver’s premium based on their driving history provided by the black box. Moreover, critics are concerned that the states and federal governments have not come up with clear standards on what information can/should be monitored, who can access the information, and for what purposes.

In any event, relevant to car accidents, and beyond the debate about whether and how such information should be used, this data can undeniably help with determining liability in a car crash case. Black boxes record information such as, the vehicle’s speed, acceleration, whether the brakes were used, whether an airbag deployed, what was happening with the steering wheel, whether ABS was engaged, whether cruise control was on, whether seatbelts were in use, and environmental conditions. The information monitored depends on the make of the car, but most will at least monitor conditions around braking, speed, and acceleration in the event of a crash. The amount and type of information that is stored permanently, and which information is wiped after a certain amount of time also depend on the car manufacturer.

The information saved can be invaluable in a car accident dispute, whether with respect to insurance claims or in a trial. When witness and driver accounts differ as to what happened immediately before an accident, and who was at fault; black box data can corroborate or contradict that testimony. For example, if the party that was more at fault for the accident argues that the other party should share some of the blame for the degree of her injuries because she was not wearing a seatbelt, data can confirm whether or not the second party was wearing a seatbelt. As another example, if one party said that they entered an intersection cautiously to make a left hand turn and therefore could not have been responsible for crashing into a car coming from the opposite direction, the speed and acceleration information stored would show whether that account was correct.

Black box information can, however, be manipulated, as shown in the VW case that has now become famous in which VW manipulated the emissions monitoring technology on their cars so that it appeared that the cars complied with emissions standards. In addition, black box technology can be hard to gather (it may take a specialized technician to access the data). Further, in certain models, collision information is only stored permanently if an airbag deploys, and therefore, if the airbag does not deploy, there may be a short time frame within which you should immediately recover and save the data. Finally, certain protocols and processes should be followed in order to preserve the untarnished data, which should be agreed upon by both parties.

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