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Event Data Recorder: Is it a Black Box?

Event Data Recorder

If you’re driving a 2013 or newer model vehicle, chances are your car is equipped with an event data recorder (EDR). In 2013, about 96% of all vehicles manufactured in the United States had an EDR installed, and by 2014, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) had mandated all cars in the U.S. to have one.

What is an Event Data Recorder?

A vehicle event data recorder is a tiny device that documents information relating to a car accident. It starts recording two to five seconds right before, during and after the crash. The device records data such as vehicle dynamics and system status, driver inputs, and restraint usage. It does not include any audio or video recordings.

Most EDRs are preset to record data in a continuous loop, overwriting information nonstop until a vehicle is involved in a collision. When the accident happens, the event data recorder automatically saves up to five seconds of data.

Is an Event Data Recorder a Black Box?

An EDR is sometimes referred to as an automatic black box in a sense that it records crash data. However, event data recorders are not actually black boxes. They are tiny microcomputer chipsets that are part of the airbag control module (ACM). They were initially installed in vehicles to monitor airbag deployment in a car crash. However, over the years as EDRs became capable of doing more than just checking airbags, auto manufacturers realized that the devices could be useful in a severe auto accident.

Watch YouTube Video: The Black Box Crash Course. This video provides a crash course on vehicle event data recorders, including how they work, what is recorded and how the data is obtained.

What Type of Data Does the EDR Record?

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration requires the EDR to record 15 types of crash data. They must include:

  • The speed of the vehicle
  • Front seat positions
  • The number of crashes
  • Accelerator position
  • The number of times the car has been started
  • Airbag deployment
  • Brake application and antilock brake activation
  • Crash event duration
  • Occupant size
  • Safety belt engagement
  • Engine rpm
  • Forward and lateral crash force
  • Stability control engagement
  • Steering wheel angle
  • Vehicle roll angle

Depending on the auto manufacturer and the model of the car, the EDR may capture more functions than the required 15 types of crash data. However, automakers are not obligated to disclose what other information is recorded.

What Can the Crash Data Be Used For?

Crash data from the event data recorders are valuable evidence that can be used in auto accident reconstruction analysis. Crash reconstruction is a science of studying car accidents using applied physics. A collision reconstruction may include the analysis of vehicle movements, vehicle speeds, vehicle impact angles and time-distance relationships of the vehicles.

Where is the Event Data Recorder Located?

The EDR is part of the vehicle control module for the occupant restraint systems like the airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners. The location of the event data recorder varies from vehicle to vehicle. It can usually be found under the seats, in the center tunnel or under the dashboard.

Watch YouTube Video: Event Data Recorder Literature Review (EDR-Vehicle Black Box). In the following video, reconstructionist William Bortles discusses the research he has done regarding EDR data.

What Vehicles are Supported with an Event Data Recorder?

Today, most cars being manufactured are equipped with some kind of EDR. Below is a list of vehicles that currently have the device installed:

  • Audi, Alpheon, Alfa Romeo, Acura
  • BMW, Buick, Bentley, Buick
  • Chrysler, Chevrolet, Cadillac
  • Dodge, Daewoo
  • Ford, Fiat
  • GMC, Geo
  • Hummer, HSV, Honda, Holden, Honda
  • Isuzu, Infiniti
  • Jeep
  • Karma
  • Lincoln, Lexus, Lancia, Lamborghini
  • Mitsubishi, MINI, Mercury, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Maserati
  • Nissan
  • Opel, Oldsmobile
  • Pontiac, Pagani
  • Rolls-Royce, RAM
  • Suzuki, Subaru, Sterling, SRT, SMART, Scion, Saturn, SAAB
  • Toyota
  • Volvo, Volkswagen

How Do We Get the Data?

Information from the event data recorder can only be retrieved using the Bosch crash data retrieval (CDR) tool. The tool consists of hardware and software that can download data that may be captured in the airbag control modules of the vehicle. The data is downloaded in code, and the crash data retrieval software converts the code into a readable graphical form. About 88% of 2016 or new vehicles are supported by the CDR tool. However, only an expert should remove the data. If the module is removed improperly, the data can be destroyed.

What is the Future of Event Data Recorders?

EDRS were initially programmed for motor vehicle safety and not for investigative purposes. However, as event data recorders become more commonly used, insurance companies are more likely to start using them to determine premiums for drivers. The balance between public safety and privacy will be tested as EDRs become more familiar. More states are also expected to draft legislation about the use of EDRs by insurance companies to ensure protection for drivers.

Sacramento Auto Accident Attorney

I’m Ed Smith, a car accident lawyer in Sacramento. Event data recorders can provide valuable crash data evidence and can play a crucial role in the investigation of a severe car accident. If you or your loved one has been involved in a car accident due to someone else’s negligence, please call me today at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 to receive my free, friendly legal advice.

I am honored to be a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a national forum of attorneys who had successfully won verdicts or settlements worth more than $1 million for their clients.

I’m also a member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel, which honors the nation’s top one percent of lawyers who practice the highest standard of legal excellence.

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Image by Marcel Langthim from Pixabay

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