Virtually all of the newer passenger vehicles on sale in Louisiana and around the country are fitted with black-box type devices known as event data recorders. These devices collect and store data such as changes in vehicle speed and driver inputs, and they can provide accident investigators with vital information about what transpired in the moments before a collision.
When the golfer Tiger Woods was seriously injured in a one-vehicle crash in February 2021, detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department obtained a search warrant to collect the data from the EDR in the Hyundai SUV he was driving. The data revealed that Woods was traveling at over 80 mph when he crashed. The posted speed limit in the area is 45 mph.
EDRs are not new
It is widely believed that EDRs were introduced quite recently, but the technology is actually decades old. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2005 that 64% of the passenger vehicles on sale in the United States were equipped with the devices. By 2014, that figure had risen to 96% according to the car research website Edmunds. That was also the year that NHTSA proposed making EDRs mandatory in all new vehicles. That effort was unsuccessful, but just about all automobile manufacturers now install them anyway.
While NHTSA regulations do not require EDRs, they do specify 15 data elements that the devices must collect. These include vehicle speed, accelerator and brake use and whether or not seat belts were fastened and airbags deployed. This is information that could be used to establish distraction or recklessness in personal injury lawsuits. Attempts to tamper with or remove EDRs are usually futile because the devices are normally installed as part of a vehicle’s airbag system.
Obtaining EDR data
The defendants in car accident lawsuits may be reluctant to turn over EDR data if it is likely to reveal that they acted negligently. In these situations, attorneys with experience in this area could use subpoenas to obtain the information. Attorneys could also act with haste as EDRs have limited memory and the data they collect and store is frequently overwritten.