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Does your car have a black box that records crash data?

The odds are good that if you have a fairly newer vehicle with an airbag system, you probably also have what's known as an "event data recorder." This small device is similar to the "black boxes" that are installed in aircraft in order to record data about crashes. What could the presence of one of these EDR devices mean for you if you're involved in a serious car accident?

Here are the basics you should know.

-- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has resisted efforts to make them mandatory in all vehicles, but they are installed automatically in most new cars. Most drivers are unaware of their existence, because they're usually only mentioned in operating manuals.

-- A separate NHTSA rule, established in 2012, states that all new EDR devices must measure 15 different data points, including speed, steering, braking, acceleration, seat belt use, force of impact and whether the airbags deployed.

-- While there's no state-specific law regarding the privacy of EDR data in Illinois, the federal Driver Privacy Act of 2015 establishes the owner or lessee of the vehicle as the owner of any information on the EDR. That means that you have significant control over how it is used. It also means that the owner of other vehicles involved in your car accident has ownership of their EDR data, if it exists. You may be able to get access to the other side's EDR data through the use of a subpoena, however, if the court will allow it.

-- EDRs are programmed to record data in a continuous loop, writing over information again and again until you are in an accident. Then it automatically saves up to 5 seconds of data surrounding the crash.

-- The data is expensive to retrieve, with the retrieval tool kits running between $2,000-$10,000 alone. However, in high-stakes lawsuits, the cost may be worth it. EDR data has already become a factor in lawsuits involving the wrongful death of people killed due to faulty ignition switches in GM vehicles.

EDR data is likely to become more important in future lawsuits, especially where the car accident results in serious injuries. If you believe that EDR data might help prove your case, discuss the issue with an attorney today.

Source: National Conference of State Legislature, "Privacy of Data From Event Data Recorders: State Statutes," accessed Feb. 10, 2017

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