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Tiger Woods Accident and “Black Box” Data

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In a press conference earlier this week, the cause of Tiger Woods’ single car accident on February 23, 2021 was announced by police.  The culprit: speed.   As part of their investigation, police accessed the black box data or EDR data from Woods’ car and discovered Tiger Woods was driving 84 to 87 mph when he lost control of the vehicle.  The speed limit was 45.  Almost everyone has heard about black box data, but read on if you want to learn what data these devices record, how the data is extracted and the role EDRs can be play in car and truck accidents that result in injury or death.

In a car or truck, the device that records technical data for a brief period of time is called an EDR or Event Data Recorder.  While they are often referred to as black boxes, that term is more appropriately used for trains and airplanes.  Rather than just recording an event like an Event Data Recorder, a black box on a train or airplane records continuously during the operation of the vehicle and they record a lot more data – in some instance, even sound.   By contrast, and as its name implies, an Event Data Recorder simply records certain data related to an event – the few seconds before, during and after a crash.  The typical data that the EDR records is (1) the driver’s inputs – things like steering, braking, etc. (2) seatbelt usage and airbag deployment information; (3) the status of the vehicle’s systems before the crash; (4) pre-crash vehicle dynamics; (5) the severity of the crash; and, (6) whether the automatic collision notification performed.

EDRs are not required, but most manufacturers are installing EDRs on vehicles currently in production, and since 2005 roughly 64% of vehicles have been equipped with them. If you are not sure if your vehicle has an EDR, check your owner’s manual.  Manufacturers use the data from EDRs to improve vehicle safety features.  In addition, in the event someone claims the vehicle did not perform as designed during a crash, the EDR can help the manufacturer prove the vehicle was operating properly.  Since 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has regulated EDRs.

After an accident, the accident data will remain in the EDR for a set period of time which varies based on the manufacturer.  After a certain number of ignition cycles, the data is erased.  This is just one of the many reasons why it is important to contact an experienced injury attorney after a serious accident.  The police, the tow truck driver, the impound lot, investigators and others typically turn the vehicle on to check for things like mileage, whether lights and signals were operational, warning lights on the dash, etc.  Every time the ignition is turned on, whether the vehicle is started or not, the EDR is one step closer to erasing.  In appropriate cases, the injury lawyer will need to send a preservation letter to ensure that the EDR data is not accidentally destroyed.

To retrieve EDR data, the owner of the vehicle must provide permission or, of course, a court can order it.   The actual process of downloading the information varies depending upon the manufacturer.  Some manufacturers allow third-parties to have the necessary software and tools to download the information while others only allow it to be done by their representatives.

EDRs can be incredibly helpful tools in certain accident investigations, but they do have limitations.  For instance, they provide no information on a driver’s impairment due to drugs or alcohol.  Similarly, they do not reveal who ran a red light.  They do not record conversations inside the vehicle before, during or after an accident, etc.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a serious accident, we urge you to contact an experienced injury attorney even if it is not us.  For help in selecting an injury attorney, review this webpage with the questions you should ask and more.  Then, give us a call and let us interview for the job.  We offer a free, initial consultation and our award-winning lawyers handle all accident cases on a contingency basis.

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