Equipping Automobiles with Black Boxes
The term “black box” generally invokes images of airplanes and the search for the black box following a crash. But black boxes are now commonly used in the automobile industry and their usefulness spans from mechanical needs to liability determination in auto accident cases. A recent report in the Toronto Star addresses the push to include black boxes in all automobiles as a standard safety feature. The article highlighted the case of a 29-year-old nurse, who lost her life when her defective ignition switch caused a fatal car crash. General Motors (GM) only recently acknowledged the defect, through a massive vehicle recall. However, the problem was identified during the nurse’s crash investigation four years ago, thanks to information obtained from the black box.
Black boxes are event data recorders. When placed into cars, they can reportedly show the speed a car was traveling, whether brakes were applied and if airbags were deployed at a given time. The United States Department of Transportation states that the black box would “capture valuable safety-related data in the seconds before and during a crash.” The recorder could even tell investigators whether passengers in the car were wearing their safety belts. GM was reportedly the first automobile company to install the black boxes in some models in 1996. Advocates are now pushing for installation in all cars and trucks by the end of 2014.
Pros and Cons
Proponents for the boxes include law enforcement agencies and insurance companies. They reportedly assert that the boxes will assist in making cars safer and helping to settle crash related disputes. Opponents are reportedly voicing concerns about privacy issues related to the use of the boxes. They explain that the gathered information can be misused and advocate for tight limitations on who can access black box data. The data boxes do not record conversations in the car. They differ from airplane black boxes in that they only record information directly before, during and after an accident.
According to the report, while black boxes can help drivers, they can also have negative effects, depending on whether the gathered information “supports or refutes their version of what happened in a crash.” The article points to one Montreal man who was sentenced to 18 months in jail, after the black box in his car proved that he gave false testimony in court.
Black box data has already been challenged in Canadian courts. While automobile manufacturers asserted that the information belonged to them, the courts disagreed, finding that the data belonged to the vehicle owner. As a result, third parties can only obtain the black box information with consent from the owner or under a court issued subpoena. However, car makers may still access much of the recorded data through their encryption keys, which are considered proprietary. An experienced personal injury or auto accident lawyer can help you determine whether black box data can assist with the success of your case.
If you or a loved one has a personal injury dispute with an automobile manufacturer, contact the Miami based legal team of Pita and Del Prado for knowledgeable and skillful representation. Call the office today at (888) 670-8060 for a free consultation.