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Black Box Data from Cars Used in Car Accident Cases

Car accidents are a fairly regular occurrence in Georgia. Most of the time, a police report and other evidence from the scene is used to establish fault, an insurance settlement is paid, and everyone moves on. However, there are times when those involved need more information. This could be the case for accidents that resulted in severe injuries or those in which fault is disputed. What many people may not realize is that their vehicles have a “black box.”

What does a car’s black box record?

When most people hear the term “black box,” they think of airplane crashes. “Black box” is the term used to describe an event data recorder that has been placed in vehicles since the 1990s. These devices were made mandatory for all new vehicles as of September 2014.

When these devices were first used, they recorded when airbags were deployed, but they have since become much more sophisticated. These devices, which are not actually black, can be used to record:

  • Speed
  • Whether seat belts were worn
  • If brakes were applied
  • Steering position

Most event data recorders capture around six seconds of events before a crash, though some newer models keep up to six minutes of data recorded.

With all of that information, you can see why law enforcement investigators or personal injury attorneys would want to get their hands on the black box. Even trained investigators can miss evidence at the scene of a crash.

Are black boxes used in Georgia car accidents?

Car accidents are not uncommon in this state. According to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, we know that there were around 400,000 vehicle crashes during the last full reporting year. Out of those, there were:

  • 1,430 crash fatalities
  • 19,405 serious crash injuries

However, it may not be so easy to gain access to a vehicle’s black box. The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that police need a warrant to obtain any personal data from vehicles. Their decision overturned a state Court of Appeals ruling that defended the use of black box data by police in a vehicular homicide case. The state Supreme Court ruled that the lower court “erred” by claiming that gathering this data did not violate the Fourth Amendment rights protecting a person against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Many rights groups, including the ACLU, have applauded the Court’s decision. They say that these data recording devices contain “extremely detailed information about not just the behavior of the car, but connections to other systems that can include phone contact, location history and other sensitive info.” They say that searching a black box was no different than searching a person’s computer.

Unless the US Supreme Court intervenes, this Georgia ruling could significantly impact how law enforcement officers in the state conduct searches and investigations in the future.

This does not mean the data is off-limits

All this ruling does is place an added step on law enforcement authorities wishing to investigate a case. They will have to justify the need for black box data to a judge to secure a warrant. For serious crash investigations, this will usually not be a problem. This data from a black box, when obtained, will be used in conjunction with all other evidence in order to prove fault in a car accident case.