Beware the Black Box

Most of us know that event data recorders (EDRs), also commonly known as "black boxes" or "sensing and diagnostic modules," are installed in airplanes. But fewer of us know that most auto manufacturers currently install these devices in new vehicles. In fact, in December 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require automakers to install EDRs in all light passenger vehicles beginning in September 2014. The purpose of an EDR in a motor vehicle is, in the event of a collision, to capture such information as vehicle speed and safety belt use in order to better understand how the vehicle systems performed.

Fourteen states, not including Massachusetts, have enacted statutes related to EDRs. Due to privacy concerns, all of them prohibit downloading of data from an EDR except under stated conditions, including with the owner's permission and by court order. Moreover, in a trial context, the party seeking to introduce data would have to show that the equipment and methodolgy used to collect the data is scientifically reliable.

So, while data helpful to one side or the other in a personal injury lawsuit may have been captured by an EDR, obtaining and using it is not a certainty. No doubt , however, evolving technology and the law will soon find how best to utilize "black box" data to fairly resolve motor vehicle injury claims.