Why Is the Black Box Important in Truck Accidents?

In the event of an accident with a tractor-trailer or semi-truck, it’s essential to understand exactly what happened. These crashes sometimes cause so much destruction to nearby vehicles and the surrounding environment that it can be difficult to piece together what led to the accident and who may be at fault.

In order to understand what happened immediately before and during an accident of this nature, it can help to have access to certain essential information about the vehicles involved. Acceleration and speed, instances of braking, and driver reaction data can help illuminate how an accident occurred and whether driver error or other factors caused the crash. Most modern cars and trucks contain a device known as an Event Data Recorder (EDR), commonly referred to as a “black box.” They are not always black, despite the name. These devices have been used for many years in airplanes to record data of interest to plane crash investigators, and now they are installed in land vehicles to provide this insight after a roadway accident.

Black boxes are built to withstand the extreme impacts and temperatures encountered in a devastating collision, and they can be useful in the hands of a skilled investigator. They record data in the moments before a crash. Black boxes installed in 18-wheelers and commercial trucks sometimes also store long-term vehicle data and driver communications. The EDR may provide access to the following information:

  • GPS coordinates of the accident
  • Direction the vehicle was moving
  • Seatbelt use
  • Vehicle speed
  • Acceleration and deceleration
  • Airbag deployment
  • Tire pressure
  • Steering
  • Brake use
  • Crash duration
  • Force of the crash
  • Vehicle stops and starts
  • Number of times the vehicle was involved in an accident
  • Time between accident events
  • Messages between the driver and the trucking company

If an operator was driving erratically, accelerated suddenly, or failed to apply the brakes in time, an attorney could use that data in court to provide evidence and possibly make a case for negligence. It may provide insight as to whether the driver had control of the vehicle, was over-steering, or was speeding.

The black box data might be useful to prove that the other party is misrepresenting an injury or the sequence of events or has entered inaccurate information into their logbooks. An experienced crash investigator can analyze the data in the EDR and put it together with other evidence from the scene to create a detailed picture of the moments before and during the crash.

The data recorder may also provide useful information related to faulty equipment on the truck or trailer. These are complex machines with thousands of essential components that require regular attention and replacement. The EDR may provide insight into lax maintenance or faulty vehicle components that may have been a root cause of the crash.

It can be important to work quickly after an accident to preserve the EDR data, and accessing the black box may require specialized equipment. The best way to obtain this information is usually to go through an attorney. If a driver uses the vehicle after the accident, the data in the recorder may be erased, or the owner or company may have the vehicle repaired and deliberately delete the data. An attorney may need to send a spoliation letter insisting that the trucking company retain all equipment related to the crash, and it may be necessary to obtain a court order to preserve the EDR data and maintain access to the black box.

Crashes involving large commercial vehicles are unfortunately common and deadly. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 4,119 people were killed in truck accidents in 2019. Drivers of smaller cars accounted for 67 percent of deaths, and 15 percent were pedestrians, cyclists, or motorcyclists. Insurance companies take these sorts of accidents seriously, and compensation can reach into the millions of dollars due to the high level of injury and property damage. A black box can be a powerful piece of evidence in the hands of a knowledgeable accident attorney.

If you’ve been in a large truck crash, the skilled San Diego highway accident lawyers of Jurewitz Law Group Injury & Accident Lawyers can help you seek compensation for your injuries. It’s important to have an advocate on your side that understands the science of EDR data and how to hold the responsible parties to account. Call us as soon as possible at (619) 233-5020, or fill out our contact form to set up a free consultation.

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