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Car Accident Blog Post

What the Black Box Tells Us About an Auto Accident

Actor Paul Walker’s life ended in a tragic Thanksgiving weekend accident. His friend Roger Rodas lost control of the 2005 Porsche Carrera GT in which Mr. Walker was a passenger. The car slammed into a post and went up in flames. Although fire destroyed the vehicle, investigators were able to recover three intact black boxes from the wreckage.

The black box — technically known as the event data recorder or EDR  — captures information about the vehicle in the moments before and during the crash. This information can help investigators determine the cause of the accident and may assist car manufacturers in building safer vehicles in the future.

The black boxes are designed to withstand extreme weather and crash conditions, including fire, salt water, crushing and piercing. The devices have been common features of airplanes, ships, trains and tractor-trailer trucks for decades. Most motor vehicle manufacturers install EDRs in new models and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a rule mandating installation of black boxes in all new cars.

The auto black boxes record such important crash-related data as:

  • Acceleration or deceleration in forward speed
  • Forward speed of the vehicle
  • Sideways acceleration
  • Whether the brake system was applied
  • Ignition cycles
  • Use of seatbelts by driver and passenger
  • Deployment of driver and passenger side airbags
  • Steering input
  • Electronic stability control system response
  • Antilock brake action

The owner of the automobile owns the data. However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, law enforcement may obtain the information through a court order. In addition, insurance companies often include language in their policies that entitle them to data if a policyholder files an accident claim.

The black box might hold the key to a liability determination in civil proceedings as well. The data can point to fault of a manufacturer or another motorist.

Data recovered from Mr. Walker’s vehicle indicates that speed was primarily to blame for the accident. Investigators concluded that the vehicle suffered no mechanical failure that contributed to the crash.

Consult with an auto accident lawyer in Southern California to learn about your rights to the black box data.

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Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire
2550 Fifth Avenue, 11th Floor
San Diego, California, 92103-6612 USA