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Shapiro, Lewis, Appleton & Favaloro
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Auto Black Box Secrets-Is Your Car Spying On You?

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The use of black box or event data recorder in late model cars is becoming a hot topic in criminal and civil litigation. More police are using black boxes to help solve traffic crimes. In Virginia, police officers are routinely downloading this information, when necessary to help figure out what happened in a fatality crash. The police department in Norfolk, for instance, has the technology and know how to download this information in about 5 minutes. Typically, this will tell the speed and direction of the driver at the time of the wreck. Some black boxes provide even more information, including seatbelt usage, whether airbags deployed and other information.

As a result of privacy concerns, a law was passed in Virginia which declares the data the private property of the car owner. Theoretically under this law in Virginia, an insurance company cannot require you to produce the data to them and cannot make any insurance decisions based upon such refusal. However, the law is so new that it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Our law firm has been experienced in dealing with event data recorders because they are standard operating equipment on the engines of the major railroads such as Norfolk Southern and CSX. One thing about event data recorders in litigation is the question of whether the information can be manipulated. For example, railroad’s event data recorders require certain inputs to extract the information. Variables such as the size of the wheels on the engine can make a difference in the speed that the event data information spits out. Lots of time and energy goes into analyzing and potentially challenging event data recorder information in the context of train wrecks and crossing accidents.

The use in car wreck cases is a bit newer. I am trying to make sure to ask for such information on all cases in the event that it is helpful to my client. There are many situations where having this technology in the defendant’s car will help us prove fault in what previously would have been a he said/she said type case. Stay tuned.