Black Boxes and Car Accident Cases


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Tiger Woods’ recent single-car accident has raised plenty of questions about all kinds of things, but one that is especially interesting in terms of criminal defense is the fact that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant to obtain information from the vehicle’s black box. The police maintain that the purpose behind the warrant is to determine if a crime was committed. This is in addition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department calling the crash – according to Yahoo!Sports – “purely an accident.” CBS News reports that the source of the warrant is to determine if the crime of reckless driving was involved (in an effort to ensure the department’s due diligence).

The Black Box

While we have all heard of black boxes being important in plane-crash investigations, they are gaining considerable momentum in car accident investigations as well – based on their ability to provide investigators with a wealth of information (that can corroborate or contradict the driver’s account) regarding what was happening at the time of the accident in question. A car’s black box is not necessarily black and may not even be a box. Instead, they are often made up of multiple components and varied sensors throughout the vehicle. The technical name for these devices is Event Data Recorder (EDR). Since 2014, manufacturers have been putting black boxes in new cars (and they were introduced in cars in about 1994). Black boxes record for about 20 seconds around the time of car crashes, and they pick up at least 15 data points that include:

  • Front and back crash force

  • The duration of the crash event

  • The vehicle’s speed

  • The position of the vehicle’s accelerator

  • Engine RPM

  • The application of brakes and the activation of antilock brakes

  • The angle of the steering wheel

Is a Warrant Needed to Retrieve a Black Box?

The answer to whether or not a warrant is needed to retrieve a black box in an investigation is complicated, and because the Supreme Court has not weighed in on the matter, there is no definitive answer. To further complicate the issue, different states have taken different approaches. According to the National Conference on State Legislators (NCSL), Texas is one of 17 states that have enacted statutes relating to black boxes and privacy. With certain exceptions – of which a warrant would be one – data collected from a car’s black box can only be downloaded with the consent of the car’s owner or lessee.

Do Not Wait to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer

Whatever kind of criminal charge you face, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is well-positioned to help prepare your sturdiest defense – in the protection of your rights and in pursuit of your case's optimal outcome. Your rights matter, so please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information about how we can help you today.

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