Event Data Recorders in North Carolina: What Does Your Car Know?
Since at least 2012, all new cars and trucks are required to have event data recorders (“EDR”). EDRs are commonly called “black boxes” but also are known as a sensing diagnostic modules (“SDM”) or crash data retrieval systems (“CDR”). According to reports, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) requires all EDRs to include the following data:
- Speed at the time of impact;
- Engine rpm;
- When the brakes were applied;
- Steering angle;
- Whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt; and
- Airbag deployment times.
According to the report, event data recorders capture about five seconds of data from before a crash and stops recording about one second after a crash.
Event Data Recorders are changing how crash litigation occurs in North Carolina. Vehicle speed and whether drivers and passengers were belted are often determinative in outcomes and in the size of judgments and settlements. Such information is no longer dependent on witness testimony; that information is now kept by the EDR. Crash litigation in the future is going to be very different. You are going to need skilled car accident lawyers who know the changing laws and technological trends.
Here is what you should know:
What Are Event Data Recorders?
An EDR is a device that combines sensing and diagnostic computer modules that track and log various information about what the car or truck is doing. GM used the first event data recorders in the mid-1970s to track airbag deployment. GM and other automobile manufacturers were primarily concerned with product liability lawsuits. Over the years, as computer technology advanced, more and more data was tracked. By the 2000s, a vast majority of vehicles had some sort of EDR tracking airbag deployment, speed, seatbelt compliance, etc.
There are many different ways that event data recorders function. Some, like those on airplanes, continuously record data and store that data for predetermined lengths of time. Other event data recorders continuously record, but overwrite the data from several minutes prior until a crash occurs. Others do not record continuously, but only begin recording if some “crash-like event” occurs. Likewise, event data recorders vary in whether the information is simply stored or whether the data is broadcast via wireless internet connections.
As reported here in 2016, Tesla cars are constantly connected to the manufacturer via the internet. In the case described in the article, a Tesla owner claimed his car suddenly accelerated on its own and crashed into a building. However, Tesla’s EDR data showed that the accelerator pedal had been pressed all the way down just prior to the crash. This suggested human action; not mechanical failure. From Tesla’s perspective, EDR data is essential in deterring and disproving claims of product liability.
Requesting EDR Data in Discovery is Becoming Routine — Practice Tips
Asking for EDR information during discovery is becoming routine. A good example of interrogatories and document requests is found in a recent Georgia case. See Howard v. Alegria, 739 SE 2d 95 (Ga. App. 2013).
The attorneys for the victim of a car crash submitted the following interrogatories and document request:
INT: “Please state whether the tractor trailer involved in the collision contained or utilized an on-board recording device, an on-board computer, tachograph, trip monitor, trip recorder, trip master, or device known by any other name which records the information concerning the operation of the truck.”
INT: “Was a tracking device, recording device and/or GPS or Black Box device in or on the [tractor trailer at the time of the accident?]”
DR: “Produce copies of any and all printouts of any on-board recording device and on-board computer, tachograph, trip monitor, trip recorder, trip master, or device known by any other name which records information concerning the operation of the truck for the thirty (30) days before the collision through and including thirty (30) days after the collision.”
As internet connectivity in vehicles increases, it is likely that wireless transmission of data is going to become more common. Thus, subpoenas to carmakers should now be added as routine steps taken in car crash cases.
Failure to Produce and Spoliation of EDR Data is Sanctionable
Failure to produce or spoliation of black box information is sanctionable. See Howard v. Alegria, above. However, victims and attorneys are cautioned to act quickly. Research has failed to uncover rules and regulations on how long EDR data must be kept. In the Howard case, the defendant claimed that such data was routinely over-written after six months.
How is EDR Data Used in Lawsuits?
If you have been hit by another person’s vehicle, any lawsuit filed to recover for injuries or damage to your car will be based on a legal theory of negligence. The essential elements of any negligence claim are:
- The existence of a legal duty or standard of care owed to the plaintiff by the defendant;
- Breach of that duty;
- A causal relationship between the breach of duty and injury or loss; AND
- Actual injury or loss sustained by the plaintiff.
See Harris v. Daimler Chrysler Corp., 638 S.E.2d 260 (N.C. App. 2006). In general, when you are driving, you owe a duty of care to every other driver (and pedestrian) to keep a careful watch and to not drive recklessly. Driving too fast is the most common basis for proving that a driver has breached his or her duty of care. EDR data now allows for precise determination of a driver’s speed. Nevertheless, it still takes an expert witness to retrieve and interpret EDR data.
EDR data will — eventually — also impact other fact questions that bear on breach of duty. Such additional facts include:
- Was the horn sounded?
- Were turn signals used?
- Was there any attempt to slow or swerve to avoid the accident?
- How close was the car following behind?
Onboard cameras are also going to become instrumental in crash cases. EDR data already impacts issues of injury since the data provides information on whether the various occupants of the cars were wearing seat belts. As said, crash litigation in the future is going to be very different.
Contact an Attorney to Discuss How Event Data Recorders Could Affect Your Case
If you or a loved one has been involved in an automobile collision, contact an experienced automobile accident attorney at Brown, Moore & Associates. We will fight for your right to compensation for all of your damages and injuries. Brown, Moore & Associates has a proven track record of success. As just one example, in Curry v. Express Freight Systems, we obtained a jury verdict in excess of $1.1 million for a tractor-trailer collision involving the defendant’s failure to yield the right of way.
Your case is unique, so we do not represent that similar results will be achieved in your case. But our lawyers know the law and have the experience to get you the compensation to which you are entitled. Contact our office today to schedule your free consultation.