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Vehicle Black Boxes: Attempts to Improve Motor Vehicle Accident Data

A recent Los Angeles Times article provided interesting insights about ongoing efforts to make automobile event data recorders (EDRs or “black boxes”) mandatory on all vehicles sold in the U.S. and to make better data available to promote public safety. In the aftermath of a motor vehicle accident, such data can help investigators understand whether the crash was caused by a negligent driver, an auto defect or a hazardous highway condition.

Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Tom Kowalick, a North Carolina college professor, worked together from the late 1990s until recently to promote standardized car crash data collection. They chaired an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) committee that created standards for EDRs, recommending that manufacturers be required to record 86 separate streams of data. Examples of the valuable data that such devices can record include a motorist’s use of a turn signal immediately prior to a crash and the severity of directional forces affecting a vehicle during a rollover.

The common-sense measure of making comprehensive data collection mandatory, which would cost only around 50 cents per vehicle, has met regular opposition from auto manufacturers and endured slow progress through the federal bureaucracy. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued regulations that stop far short of the IEEE standard. Automakers are not yet required to install black boxes, and only 15 data elements are mandated if a company voluntarily decides to install one. The good news is that the vast majority of vehicles on the road today do have at least this level of data recording capability.

Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys Have an Array of Techniques for Compiling Evidence

The value of comprehensive data to accident reconstructionists is only outweighed by the great positive effect it could have on public safety. Some momentum for a stricter highway safety mandate came in the wake of the widespread sudden acceleration issue detected in Toyota vehicles. NHTSA relied heavily on available EDR data in its investigation of suspected Toyota auto defects.

Meanwhile, there are still many things an experienced car crash lawyer can do to help clients understand the reasons behind an accident and their options for pursuing compensation. An attorney can collect witness testimony, work closely with consultants to scrutinize wreckage and the scene of the crash and provide compelling evidence of the effects of a long-term injury to persuade opposing counsel and juries of fault and damages.