What is a Black Box and How Can it Impact my Accident Case?

Written by Greg on December 8, 2018

The majority of newer cars in the U.S. today have event recorders or event data recorders, also known as black boxes. The information they provide is vital information in many personal injury lawsuits.


Crash Data Recorder


That is a Black Box?


The term black box describes an onboard computer, also called an “event data” recorder, which records data for crashes from cars and big rigs and aircraft.


The most significant change in the last twenty years in the liability part of a car accident lawsuits is the introduction of the onboard computer for many passenger cars. Before “black boxes” or computers in many popular models of passenger cars, the speed and braking of the vehicles were determined by accident reconstruction experts who gathered facts related to the accident to come up with an opinion as to the speed of the cars.


The reconstruction experts would typically look at skid marks, the makeup of the roadway, and crush measurements to arrive at a statistically accurate range of speeds for the vehicles. While the accident reconstruction expert’s opinions often varied as to speed, that is not the case so much anymore.


Onboard computers have changed the game. For passenger cars equipped with the data recorders, how fast they were going is no longer in dispute. Many manufacturer’s computer data is downloadable from the wrecked vehicle; others are more difficult to obtain. We hope that the Department of Transportation will work with manufacturers to provide onboard computer data to all.


If available, the onboard computer can show speed immediately before an accident, breaking activity, and even if the driver had their seatbelt on and other relevant information. Onboard computers have been invaluable and commercial vehicle accident litigation for some time, and now the same information is available for car accidents.


The event recorders developed to deal with aircraft accidents and later adapted to monitor airbags in automobiles. Today, however, event data recorders capture much information on newer model cars, such as braking, seat belt use, speed, and other information just before impact.


Which Cars and Trucks Have Black Boxes?


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration developed a rule requiring that if an event data recorder is part of the car, or pickup truck that specific information needs to be collected. However, older cars, trucks, and 18-wheelers may not have event data capability, but most newer models do.


In auto accidents and truck wrecks, event data provides beneficial information when it is accessible by authorities or by accident lawyers either on the plaintiff side or the defense.


Many accident reenactment experts can download event data on many newer cars and trucks. And the information captured just before impact is tough to dispute credibly.


What Information the Black Box Records

Some of the vital information on the computer data captured after an accident include:


  1. Speed
  2. Braking activity and
  3. Seatbelt use.


Accident Reconstruction Experts Still May Be Needed


Reconstruction experts may still be needed to explain the data from the black boxes and also to connect the dots between the two vehicles for a jury. However, the variable of speed and other data measured has been changed with the computer data so commonly available today.



It is helpful as often a car accident happens unexpectedly in a matter of split seconds, and it is sometimes difficult for the injury victim to recall or what happened in the crash if they survived. Best of all, it is hard to dispute the data captured by the black box.


Preservation of the Black Box is Critical


Often after an accident, it is critical that the onboard computer data is preserved. Retaining an experienced attorney after an 18-wheeler accident should be done early.


No Charge for Lawyer Consultations


Call us for a consultation after a severe injury or wrongful death crash. There is no charge for the consultation. Call 281-587-1111!














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