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By Jim Adler June 12, 2015

You know planes have a “black box” to record data and show causes of an accident. Did you know your car also could have such a black box — called an EDR — to collect crash data? Such an “event data recorder” could be in your car without you even knowing it.

What does an EDR mean if you have a car wreck?

The bottom line is that crash data from an EDR can be used for you — or against you. Jim Adler of Jim Adler & Associates explained that on an April 28, 2015 KPRC-TV investigative report.

“It’s like Big Brother is always watching,” Adler told reporter Joel Eisenbaum of the Houston NBC affiliate. Indeed, huge troves of data can be taken from an EDR.

Federal, State Laws on EDRs

What are federal and state laws on EDRs? Actually, the devices have been voluntarily installed by manufacturers for several years, as part of federal safety guidelines for boosting traffic accident analyses. About 90% of new cars since 2012 have an EDR.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration isn’t satisfied. The NHTSA wants EDRs to be required on all vehicles by federal law starting in 2016.

By Texas law, EDR data belongs to the registered owner of the vehicle, though the data can be accessed by court order for a number of purposes. Fourteen other states have similar state laws, which protect owners’ privacy — to a point.

Usually EDR data can be downloaded only with the vehicle owner’s consent. But exceptions may exist when a car accident lawsuit or insurance investigations are involved.

Data An EDR Can Reveal

As for the data an EDR can reveal, that includes 15 types of crash information, such as a vehicle’s speed, acceleration, braking, steering angle and whether its seat belts were properly fastened. It also may include if passengers were on board, the passengers’ weight and if tires were adequately inflated.

All of this is collected as downloadable data — saved information which does not involve audio or video. Largely such data collection is restricted to the moments before and after a crash — the “event” in the EDR’s name. Some EDRs may transmit such data to a remote location, but most require direct downloads from the vehicle.

By federal law, an EDR is required to keep just five seconds of data from before an impact, which is added to data from immediately afterward to help explain why the accident happened and what results ensued. When retrieved, such EDR data is added routinely into the crash databases of the NHTSA.

For normal driving, data is collected and then quickly overwritten — at least until a crash occurs and data is saved as a result.

Future EDRs are expected to be even more sophisticated and elaborate in collecting even more data. This data may include GPS location, which isn’t part of EDRs’ data collection now.

As for tractor trailers, diesel trucks, semi trucks, big rigs or 18-wheelers, EDRs may be triggered by problems in the engine or sudden changes in speed which are electronically sensed.

EDRs in Cars’ Safety Systems

In passenger vehicles, the EDR is in cars’ safety systems, which includes the airbag control system. Such a safety system is responsible for making instant decisions on whether to inflate airbags, tighten seatbelts and other things in a crash.

EDRs originally were meant to provide data to indicate if such safety systems were working properly, but now they’re saving more and more data and are being used for wider purposes, including lawsuits.

Disabling an EDR

Though an EDR’s data is tamper-proof, an EDR can be disabled. For a driver, disabling an EDR would involve disabling a car’s entire safety system, which obviously is not a good idea.

However, some lawmakers are proposing bills which would allow drivers to turn off an EDR without sacrificing their safety system’s functionality. Privacy advocates favor such an approach, noting that EDRs are collecting more and more data, and without the car owner’s consent.

Do You Have an EDR?

As for whether you have an EDR, that should be indicated on your car’s owner’s manual. Keep in mind you’re less likely to have an EDR if your car was built prior to 2012.

Since not everyone looks for this information, many motorists today are unaware that their car’s functions are being tracked by an EDR. And that hidden EDR may be a blessing — or a curse — after an accident.

Indeed, in U.S. trials where EDR evidence was used, some drivers have been exonerated, or found not guilty, while others have been found to blame. As Jim Adler has noted, such EDR crash data “can be used for you — or against you.”

If you need a traffic accident attorney after a crash, alert Jim Adler & Associates today. We’ll promptly provide you with a free case review. And if we take your case, whether we use your EDR data will be your decision.

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