The Role of a Black Box in a Truck Accident Case


Thousands of large commercial trucks, including semi-trucks, tractor-trailer trucks and box trucks travel American highways on their way to deliver freight to communities across the country each day. Weighing in at up to 40 tons fully loaded in some cases, a large commercial vehicle is 20 to 30 times the size and weight of an average passenger vehicle on the road today. The sheer weight and size of these vehicles puts other motorists at considerable risk in the event of a large truck accident caused by driver carelessness or negligence. As a result, accidents involving large commercial trucks are typically catastrophic in nature, ending in permanent disability and sometimes death.

Approximately 141,000 large trucks were involved in fatal or injury-causing crashes over a two-year period according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A 2015 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that nearly 4,000 people die as a result of large truck accidents annually in the United States, a number that has steadily grown over the past decade.

Some of the most common reasons for commercial trucking accidents include:

  • Excessive driver speed
  • Driver distraction or inattention
  • Loss of control of the vehicle
  • Inadequate visualization of roadway hazards
  • Overloaded or improperly loaded freight
  • The mental and physical state of the driver
  • Mechanical and vehicle failure

The vast majority of these accidents are completely preventable. Event data recorders (EDRs) or electronic control modules (ECMs), which are also known as a truck’s black box, can help to unravel the reason for an accident when one does occur. These devices operate similarly to an airplane’s black box, by answering questions about what was happening directly before, during, and after a wreck.

If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a large commercial vehicle, it’s time to hire an Omaha attorney familiar with the legal implications and evidence recovery process in personal injury lawsuits against trucking companies. The lawyers at Berry Law understand the crucial role that EDRs play in helping to determine liability in these cases. They will listen to your story, examine the evidence, and advise you on whether or not you have a case.

What Is a Black Box and What Does It Do?

A truck’s black box records information about the vehicle’s status, and then stores data regarding the truck, the trip it was on at the time of the accident, and its location directly before the accident occurred. Some models of EDRs record data continually and store it for longer periods of time, while others only keep it from the few minutes leading up to the detection of a crash.

Digital data that is recovered from a black box can later be used by law enforcement, accident investigators, attorneys and insurance companies to learn information about the circumstances surrounding an accident, including who was at fault. That information may be critical in building a case for a potential liability lawsuit. Although black box recording devices are not required by law, most trucks built after the 1990s have them anyway as part of the vehicle’s engine component system. Older trucks made prior to the 1990s and still operating on the road today may not have an EDR. Many major national trucking operations also employ the use of satellite tracking equipment or trip recorders to monitor their trucks when they’re on the road.

Black box data is vital in the event of a large truck accident because of the electronic information it contains. It may be the key to unlocking the answer as to what happened in a crash. The records from a truck’s black box can provide you and your attorneys with a crucial piece of the puzzle that helps to support your claims in a personal injury lawsuit. It may prove negligence on the part of the truck driver or trucking company if, for example, the driver was speeding, lost control of the truck or failed to brake at a stop signal.

For example, black box data can provide evidence that a driver drifted from the roadway to the shoulder of the highway, which may indicate a distracted or fatigued driver at the time of the wreck. If black box records show that a driver suddenly swerved before crashing, such a maneuver may explain a rollover accident. Black box data that points to a steering wheel turn directly before a blind spot accident may prove that the driver of a truck was attempting to merge into another lane before the crash.

What Information Does an EDR Store?

Data that can be obtained from an EDR depends largely on the engine manufacturer, but it can include any of the following:

  • Speed the truck was traveling immediately before a crash
  • Frequency at which the truck operated over or under a particular speed limit
  • Sudden decelerations and accelerations
  • Whether or not the brakes were applied and at what point that occurred
  • Number of hard stops a truck made and the rotations per minute (RPM) between stops
  • Use of cruise control
  • Monthly or daily truck activity logs
  • Whether or not the driver was wearing a seatbelt
  • Air bag deployment
  • Tire pressure
  • Engine oil levels
  • Number of times a truck has been involved in a crash and the time interval between accidents
  • GPS location and information
  • Whether the steering wheel was turned at any given time

A black box may also reveal important communication between the truck driver and the trucking company that sheds light on the cause of the accident. For example, emails that reveal that a driver was fatigued, experienced mechanical problems, or had other issues on a trip that resulted in a wreck could be key pieces of evidence in a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Usage data can likely be compared to a trucker’s logbook to determine if the driver violated travel time rules regarding the hours spent on the road without a break. If one of these reasons led to the accident, the black box data may prove that the trucking company is liable for any damages incurred as a result.

How Can My Attorney Obtain Black Box Data?

Most EDRs store data for approximately 30 days before that information is recorded over, but some black box models could record over information in a much shorter period of time. It’s also possible that the trucking company may intentionally erase data related to an accident, choosing to destroy information that may prove to be damaging to them in a civil suit.

Because the trucking company has possession of the black box, they also have control over the information it contains. They may not be eager to turn black box information over to investigators or attorneys, especially if their driver was at fault. Like any business, trucking companies operate on profits, and they will want to avoid taking financial responsibility for an accident in order to protect their profits margins.

Since it’s possible that black box evidence of your accident could be intentionally or accidentally erased, it’s important to recover this data as soon as possible following an accident before it’s destroyed. This may require you to compel the trucking company to hand over black box data. One way to do this is through your attorney, who can send an evidence preservation letter directly to the trucking company on your behalf.

The purpose of an evidence preservation letter is to inform the trucking company of your intentions to file suit and to direct them not to destroy information pertinent to the case. Such a letter should be sent immediately. Your attorney may also hire an expert in electronic recording devices to avoid problems or a loss of evidence when the information from the EDR is being downloaded.

How Can Black Box Data Help My Case?

Along with black box data, physical evidence, accident scene reconstruction, eyewitness testimony, and other facts of the case, can point to a trucking company’s liability in an accident. This is important in recovering losses for expenses you sustained as a result of your wreck. Medical bills, physical therapy, long-term nursing care, loss of wages, and loss of future earnings quickly add up, and the negligent party should be responsible for those monetary damages, along with the expense of repairing or replacing your vehicle.

While filing a personal injury claim can’t restore you or your family member’s physical health or reverse the damage done to your vehicle following a large truck accident, a victory in court can help victims and their families recover compensation for the injuries they received as a result of a truck driver or trucking company’s negligence.

If you’ve been injured in a commercial truck accident and are considering filing a claim against the at-fault party, black box data may hold the irrefutable evidence you and your legal team need to prove your case and receive the compensation you deserve. The attorneys at Berry Law will advocate for your right to fair compensation and exhaust all avenues when it comes to collecting evidence to build a strong case. Reach out to our team today to get started.

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