How Black Box Data Can Be Used in a Georgia Truck Accident Case

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Key Points:

  • If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, you or your attorney must prove the truck driver was at fault for causing the collision to recover compensation from the insurance company.
  • Almost all passenger vehicles and commercial trucks now contain a black box designed to record critical information about an accident, such as the vehicle’s speed or whether the driver was braking before impact.
  • The truck’s black box data belongs to the trucking company, which means your attorney will likely have to obtain access to the information through a court order or discovery process before it is lost or destroyed.
  • Retrieving data from the truck’s black box can be difficult and expensive, but this information can be crucial in proving who caused the accident.

A collision with a semi truck, or tractor-trailer truck, can result in extensive damage to vehicles as well as severe injuries to drivers and passengers. If you have been hurt in a truck accident, the truck’s “black box” can be crucial in proving your liability claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier.

Just as airplanes have a black box that provides data about the moments leading up to a crash, almost all cars and semi trucks now contain a black box designed to record critical information such as the vehicle’s speed or whether the driver was braking before impact. “Black box” is a generic term that encompasses different elements of the computerized systems installed in motor vehicles, and the types of systems vary.

Note that these devices are not actually boxes—they’re small computer chips that record information about the truck’s status and movements and the driver’s actions. One of these devices, the event data recorder (EDR), often provides the most useful information about the moments before an accident. In passenger cars and light trucks/SUVs, the EDR is located in the air bag control module, and the data it records is related to a crash event. In commercial vehicles such as semi trucks, recordings are found in the electronic control module (ECM), which also contains “snapshot” data relating to the truck’s operation. This snapshot data is not always triggered by a crash event but often has information related to the accident. In addition, semi truck recording devices are more sophisticated and reliable and contain far more data than the EDRs found in cars.

Information found on an EDR/ECM may be the key to proving your claim, but it can be difficult to obtain this evidence from the trucking company. Once it is obtained, your attorney will need to hire a specialist to interpret the data and prove the truck driver was at fault for the accident.

Why Semi Trucks Have Black Boxes

Though semi trucks are not legally required to have EDRs/ECMs, almost all do because manufacturers and trucking companies want a record of how drivers operate their trucks. Originally installed by manufacturers to contest warranty claims, the use of these recording devices has become widespread in trucks built since the 1990s for several reasons.

First, semi trucks transport millions of dollars’ worth of goods over long distances, so the trucking company wants to make sure these goods are protected by safe and responsible drivers. In addition, the truck itself is an expensive commodity, and fleet owners want to protect their investment. An unsafe driver can also injure other people and put the owner at risk for lawsuits, which can impact the trucking company’s bottom line.

The black box can be used to monitor driver performance and truck status as well as keep track of the driver’s hours of service, which are limited by federal law. By monitoring their employees’ driving behavior and the operation of their trucks, trucking companies can use these devices to protect their own best interests.

How Black Boxes/EDRs Work

To understand the value of EDR evidence, it’s helpful to know how these recording devices work. In cars, light trucks, and SUVs, the EDR is part of the airbag control module and is programmed to record data in a continuous loop, which means that information is written over again and again until the vehicle is involved in a crash event.

A crash event may involve the driver braking suddenly, swerving off the road, or hitting an object with enough force to make the airbags deploy. Once the EDR is triggered, it automatically saves up to 5 seconds of data before, during, and after an accident.

The black box information in a semi truck is found in the ECM, however, and provides far more data than just the seconds surrounding an accident. The reason for this difference in technology is simple: car manufacturers installed EDRs to monitor airbag deployment in the event of a collision, whereas truck manufacturers installed devices to monitor the truck and its driver over time as well.

In other words, the truck’s black box is not designed to record only one instance but to measure vehicle maintenance, speed, resource management, and driver actions over many trips. While black boxes installed in most new trucks keep data for at least 30 days before it’s recorded over, older trucks may only store data for a few days.

What Kind of Data Does the Black Box/EDR Record?

The kind of data recorded by the black box may vary depending on the manufacturer, make, and model of the truck, but it typically includes the following:

  • Speed of the truck before the crash
  • Whether the truck was driven above, below, or at the speed limit over time
  • Acceleration or deceleration before the crash
  • Brake application
  • Airbag deployment
  • Seatbelt usage by the driver
  • Cruise control usage
  • Gear engagement times
  • Existence and number of hard stops
  • Tire pressure
  • Steering wheel movement
  • Diagnostic snapshots that indicate truck defects
  • GPS location
  • Truck usage data (i.e., number of hours spent driving and resting)
  • Number of crash events and time between multiple collisions

Some manufacturers program black boxes to record even more data, such as communications between drivers and the trucking or logistics company. Data that indicates negligent driving, such as speeding and hard braking, can be used to help prove fault in an accident. Records indicating that the trucking company knew the truck was defective or the driver had a history of unsafe driving can also be strong evidence in a truck accident legal claim.

Can the Data in a Black Box/EDR Prove Who Was at Fault for the Truck Accident?

If you’ve been injured in a truck accident, you or your attorney must prove the truck driver was at fault for causing the collision to recover compensation from the insurance company (note you must also prove your injuries and other costs to recover). The best way to prove liability is gathering strong evidence that shows what happened, and black box data can provide objective, reliable documentation about the accident.

Black boxes contain information that can show exactly what the truck driver was doing at the time of the crash and in the moments leading up to it, as well as details about their driving history and the truck’s condition. For example, the data may show that the driver was speeding, skidding, or failed to slow down or brake before the accident. The data could also show that the truck’s brake system was faulty, and the driver had communicated this information to the trucking company and/or continued to drive in an unsafe truck.

Because the black box contains so much detailed information, it is often the best evidence of liability available in a truck accident case and can prove who caused the accident. Given that most cars also contain EDRs, the black box in your own vehicle can bolster your claim if its data is consistent with the truck’s.

How Truck Accident Lawyers Obtain Black Box/EDR Data

Black boxes may be the most valuable source of information about a truck accident, but trucking companies use the data to protect their own interests—not yours. And under the law, a vehicle’s black box belongs to the owner. That means if one of the company’s drivers causes a crash, it’s unlikely that the trucking company will hand over its black box data without a fight.

In some cases, the trucking company may seek to hide or destroy black box data so it can’t be used in an injury claim or lawsuit. Even if it’s not destroyed, the data may only be stored for a short time before it’s recorded over, especially if the truck is still being driven after the accident. That’s why time is of the essence when it comes to obtaining black box data in an injury claim.

If the trucking company consents, police, insurers, attorneys, and/or investigators may gain access to the data. If it doesn’t consent, your attorney will need a court order or discovery process to inspect and download the data from the truck. When criminal activity is suspected, law enforcement can gain access with a search warrant.

Even after your attorney has gained access to the black box, retrieving the data can be difficult and expensive. The information is located on multiple computer chips within the truck, and your attorney will need to employ a data retrieval specialist to access the data port using certain hardware and software, then download and interpret the information accurately. Depending on the truck, this process can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000.

If retrieval isn’t possible because the black box data has been lost or destroyed, your attorney may still be able to obtain the evidence through the trucking company’s insurance carrier. Insurance companies often require access to the black box data of their policyholders and download the information as part of their own investigation after an accident. An experienced truck accident attorney knows how to obtain black box data from the insurance carrier as well as the trucking company.

Can Black Box/EDR Data Be Used to Support a Settlement Demand Letter?

Yes. Any data your attorney obtains from the truck’s black box is admissible as evidence at trial and can be used during settlement negotiations with the trucking company’s insurance carrier. After investigating your claim and collecting evidence proving liability and costs, your attorney will prepare a settlement demand letter to send to the carrier.

The settlement demand letter will explain the basis for your claim, including a description of the accident, injuries, and supporting evidence, and ask for compensation that fully covers your costs. The insurance carrier must respond within the time frame specified in the letter. As part of the demand letter package, your attorney will include documentation that proves liability, such as police reports and black box data/analysis retrieved by the specialist.

Our Team of Truck Accident Lawyers Can Help

Without an experienced truck accident attorney handling your case, you risk not receiving the maximum amount of compensation you deserve. Our lawyers have represented truck accident victims since 1993 and know how to obtain and use black box evidence to build a strong claim against the trucking company’s insurance carrier.

Our lawyers go to work immediately to investigate the accident and gather all the evidence necessary to prove the trucking company is responsible for your injuries. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.