How Important Is Black Box Data After a Truck Accident?

July 17, 2023 | Ed Bernstein
How Important Is Black Box Data After a Truck Accident?

After a truck accident, determining the cause of the crash can ensure that victims receive justice and fair compensation. The truck's black box is critical evidence in that process.

Also known as an Event Data Recorder (EDR), a black box is a device that captures and stores crucial data concerning the truck's performance and operation. This invaluable information may identify the factors that contributed to the accident and could help you and your truck accident lawyer improve the outcome of your truck accident case.

Black Boxes and Their Use in Commercial Trucks

Black boxes in commercial trucks typically consist of two components: EDRs and Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs).

EDRs are responsible for recording data points related to the vehicle's operational performance, such as speed, brake times, and acceleration. These data points can help reconstruct the events leading to an accident.

ELDs track driving hours to ensure compliance with hours of service regulations. This information can help you and your lawyer determine whether driver fatigue contributed to the accident.

Since 2017, the United States Department of Transportation has mandated ELDs for most commercial truck and bus drivers. A few exceptions to this rule apply to short-haul drivers who log no more than eight days during any 30-day period, towaway drivers, and drivers of vehicles manufactured before 2000. In most cases, drivers fitting these exceptions must maintain paper logs of their hours on the road.

The Prevalence of EDRs in the Trucking Industry

Truck Accident near Las Vegas, NV area

Unlike ELDs, no law requires commercial trucks to install and operate EDRs. Most new vehicles, however, include them, and the industry largely adopts them. Trucking companies use them to aid internal accident investigations and improve fleet safety.

Types of Data Recorded by Black Boxes

Truck black boxes can record an extensive array of data, including:

  • Vehicle speed and acceleration.
  • Engine revolutions per minute and throttle position.
  • Brake application and force.
  • Steering angle and input.
  • Airbag deployment.
  • Seatbelt usage.
  • GPS location and route.
  • Driving time and rest periods.

This data can provide invaluable insights into the circumstances surrounding a truck accident, making it an essential piece of evidence in any investigation or legal proceeding.

The Role of Black Box Data in Truck Accident Investigations

Black box data can help to determine the cause of an accident by providing a detailed account of the truck's operation leading up to the crash. It may reveal whether the driver was speeding, braking, or swerving, for example.

By analyzing this data, your attorney can piece together a more accurate and objective picture of the events leading up to the accident. That evidence could be pivotal in determining factors that might have contributed to the crash.

Identifying Negligence or Wrongdoing Through Black Box Data Analysis

Black box data may also uncover evidence of negligence or misconduct by the truck driver or trucking company.

Examples include:

  • Excessive speed or reckless driving.
  • Failure to apply brakes or take evasive action.
  • Driving beyond allowed hours of service limits.
  • Inadequate maintenance of the truck.

Through careful analysis of the black box data, your attorney can pinpoint specific negligence or misconduct that may have contributed to the accident. That information strengthens your case and improves your chances of obtaining fair compensation for your injuries.

Proving negligence may also help your legal representative establish liability for the accident, which is critical to obtain compensation for your damages. By demonstrating that the truck driver or trucking company violated regulations or traffic laws, your lawyer could increase your chances of getting the compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.

Preservation of Black Box Data as Evidence

After an accident, the preservation of black box data becomes crucial. It's the only way to make sure the data has a chance of becoming evidence in your personal injury case.

Anyone with access to the black box may accidentally or intentionally overwrite or alter the data. The data could also become corrupt over time. Trucking companies may not have a legal obligation to retain this data indefinitely, so you need to act quickly to preserve it.

4 Steps to Take in Preserving Black Box Data After a Truck Accident

The following steps can help you preserve the information on a truck's black box after an accident:

  1. Contact a personal injury attorney with experience in truck accident cases as soon as possible. They'll be able to help you with any steps you need to take, including preserving the data from the black box.
  2. Send a spoliation letter to the trucking company requesting that they preserve all evidence related to the accident, including black box data. This letter serves as a legal notice, and failure to comply with the request could result in penalties for the trucking company. If you work with an attorney, they'll send this letter on your behalf.
  3. Let your lawyer work with experts to access and download the black box data. Your lawyer will attempt to make sure that relevant information is properly recorded and preserved for future use in your case.
  4. Invite all parties to the data download. This ensures that there will be no accusations of improper handling of the information.

The Consequences of Failing to Preserve Black Box Data

Failure to preserve black box data could seriously hinder your ability to prove negligence or liability in a truck accident case. Without this crucial evidence, it may be more difficult to establish the cause of the accident and identify any wrongdoing by the truck driver or trucking company. As a result, you may have a much lower chance of obtaining fair compensation for your injuries and losses.

That's why working with an experienced attorney who understands this type of case and the evidence that may live inside the truck's black box is vital. The right attorney can take the necessary steps to secure the data for your case.

The Need for Expert Analysis of Black Box Data

Although black box data provides essential information about the truck's operation and the events leading up to the accident, interpreting it requires technical expertise. Accident reconstructionists and other technical experts will work to analyze the data to develop a clear and accurate understanding of events, which is core to building a strong case.

Expert analysis of black box data can determine factors such as:

  • The speed of the truck before and during the accident.
  • Whether the driver applied the brakes or attempted evasive maneuvers.
  • The truck's position and direction of travel.
  • The timing and sequence of events leading up to the accident.
  • The condition and functioning of the truck's critical systems, such as brakes and tires.

Your attorney will work with this expert analysis to establish negligence, liability, and the cause of the accident, making your case more compelling and persuasive.

Admissibility of Black Box Data in Court

Information from the truck's black box may only help your case if the court admits it as evidence.

Whether this happens will depend on:

  • The reliability and accuracy of the data: The court will consider whether the black box data is reliable and accurate based on the preservation and analysis of the information presented.
  • Relevance to the case: The court will only consider information from the black box that relates to the specific issues in the case, such as proving negligence or establishing liability.
  • Compliance with rules of evidence: The data from the black box must adhere to the applicable rules of evidence. It must contain authentic information, and no parties should object to its admission as hearsay.

This is another reason why working with an attorney who has experience in this type of evidence is crucial. The right professional will work to make sure information supporting your claim follows these rules and remains admissible.

Determining the Reliability and Accuracy of Black Box Data

These steps may encourage the courts to consider black box data in the claim:

  • Ensure proper preservation: You need to preserve black box data in an appropriate manner to prevent data loss and corruption.
  • Enlist expert assistance: A qualified expert can assess the reliability and accuracy of the data before your lawyer presents it to the court by evaluating the data recording process, potential sources of errors, and the consistency of the data with other available evidence.
  • Establish a chain of custody: The black box data must follow a clear chain of custody to ensure that no one tampers with the information.

Taking these steps helps your attorney verify that the data will support your injury case by providing evidence that, for example, the truck driver was speeding, driving erratically, failing to brake, or failing to take evasive action. Alternatively, it may show that the truck had mechanical errors or malfunctioning systems.

Examples of Black Box Data as Successful Supporting Evidence for Truck Accidents

Black box data has proven vital in determining the outcome of numerous accident lawsuits.

The anonymized examples below demonstrate the significance of this type of evidence.

  • In a case involving a fatal collision between a truck and a passenger vehicle, black box data revealed that the truck driver had been speeding and had failed to apply the brakes before the crash. The expert analysis helped to establish the truck driver's negligence, leading to a favorable settlement for the victims' families.
  • In another case, black box data showed that a truck driver had violated hours of service regulations, driving for an extended period without taking required rest breaks. This information contributed to a verdict in favor of the injured plaintiff.

The above examples highlight how important black box data may become in truck accident cases. It can be compelling evidence of negligence and liability, which can greatly impact the outcome of a personal injury claim. These cases also serve as a reminder of the importance of timely preservation and expert analysis of black box data and adherence to legal and evidentiary requirements.

As technology continues to improve, black box data may play an increasingly significant role in truck accident litigation. Working with an attorney who is up-to-date on the latest technological developments and experienced in using this information as evidence places you in the best possible position to obtain compensation and justice after a crash involving a commercial truck. connect with a personal injury attorney in Las Vegas today for a consultation.

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Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.