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For My Car Accident Case Can I Use A Black Box?

Steven Matz
December 27, 2022 | Car Accident, Verdicts & Settlements

If your vehicle was manufactured after 2018, chances are it contains a black box, also known as an event data recorder, or EDR. Car accident cases often boil down to one person’s word against another’s, and while a car’s black box data can help provide concrete evidence, there has been some debate about the usefulness of such EDR data in car accident cases.

If you have been in a Michigan car accident and want to know if the black box will be helpful for your claim, the car accident lawyers at Matz Injury Law can help. Our law firm can guide you through the process of filing a car accident claim so you can focus on healing from your injuries.

What Are Black Boxes in Cars?

Car's black box

You have probably heard of black boxes in relation to airplanes. They are an important part of discovering what went wrong in the case of plane crashes. The black box has long been a vital part of the aerospace industry, and most aircraft have one. Now, black boxes are also found in cars and serve a very similar function.

The black box is the colloquial name for a car’s event data recorder, or EDR, a device made from crash-resistant, durable material to ensure that it survives collisions. Black boxes record everything that happens in the moments leading up to a car accident. This helps investigators determine what happened to help avoid similar accidents in the future.

Automotive manufacturers use the data to develop ever better safety technology or improve existing active intelligent safety technology in vehicles. It can also, however, help you present your case in a personal injury lawsuit.

If you have suffered a severe injury in an accident caused by another driver and are curious if a black box can be evidence, our law firm may be able to help. Contact Matz Injury Law at 866-226-6833 or fill out our easy online contact form to schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team today.

What Cars Have a Black Box?

Cars are not required to contain a black box; there is no federal mandate stating that EDRs are required in vehicles. Most new cars manufactured after 2018, however, have one, and most car manufacturers, from Ford to Chrysler, Cadillac, Toyota, and others, consider it best practice to include one in the vehicle’s design and construction. Some cars have had them as far back as 1994. In most vehicles, the black box is located behind the steering wheel and dashboard.

What Does a Vehicle’s Black Box Record?

male and female technicians looking at a laptop

Crash data collected by a motor vehicle’s EDR includes the throttle position and vehicle speed, brake application and pressure, airbag control module activation and airbag deployment, steering angles, use of seat belts, and many other elements of the vehicle’s telematics and data. The recorded data consists of about 20 seconds from immediately before the car crash through the event and shortly after.

When Can I Use My Black Box for My Car Accident Case in Michigan?

Event data recorder information has been used since the 1990s by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for gathering statistical data. It is only over the past few years that this type of data has been used in car accidents.

In a 2018 case, the courts ruled that black box data is not protected by privacy laws but left an opening for laws to evolve as the amount of data recorded by the boxes grows. They stressed that it is better to have a warrant or subpoena for the data than to assume it is admissible. As a result, normally, for such data to be used in court, a court order or subpoena is required for crash data retrieval, or CDR.

Your black box can help prove that the at-fault driver in your car crash lawsuit was negligent when the accident happened. Usually, the data is used by police, accident reconstruction experts, and crash investigators to piece together what happened.

It is difficult and expensive to download data from a vehicle’s black box, and each car manufacturer has its own type of cable to connect to the box. Data from a car crash is downloaded to conduct collision damage analysis, but only a trained specialist can interpret this type of data. Black box data can help determine if the data matches or contradicts the versions of each driver regarding what happened in the crash. Many courts treat the data as admissible during the litigation of your car crash case.

To collect non-economic damages (pain and suffering) in Michigan, you still must prove that the other driver was negligent. This means you must demonstrate they acted in an irresponsible manner, that their irresponsibility led in some way to the accident, and that your injuries arose as a direct result of the accident.

Pain and suffering is a catch-all term for the types of injuries that are difficult to value. These include things like loss of consortium, loss of comfort and companionship, loss of the ability to enjoy life, PTSD, emotional trauma, physical pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mortification, shock, mental anguish, the reduction in your quality of life, and all the other invisible injuries that result from an accident. These are difficult to value and are often a major sticking point in negotiations for personal injury cases.

What Are the Cons of Using Black Box Data After a Crash in Michigan?

The biggest problem with using black box data is that the data is incomplete, and juries can often give it more weight than should be granted to only a few seconds of information. Any driving behavior from before the start of the accident is not recorded. This means that if you were driving responsibly but suddenly had to slam on the brakes, accelerate, or swerve to avoid a collision, the box only shows that you slammed on the brakes, accelerated, or swerved. Your prior behavior will not be part of the evidence the box provides and may be off the record.

Special Equipment for Downloading

Downloading the data, as mentioned, is expensive and difficult. A specialized crash retrieval system is required, as well as a special proprietary cable that is unique to each automotive manufacturer. Many local law enforcement offices simply do not have access to the equipment to download the data, nor the required specialists to interpret it.

Who Can Legally Access Black Box Information?

female technician pointing at a male technicians computer

Not just anyone can access your black box data, despite prior rulings that it is not private. The crash data retrieval system and the expense involved with its use act as a practical deterrent to this process in many cases. Only 15 states so far have specific laws about pulling crash data recorder information from a car. Michigan is not among these states.

The laws, however, continue to evolve as technology and data collection methods continue to advance. In the case of a court order or subpoena, however, there is not much that can be done to stop access to black box data.

If you are not certain who has the right to access your black box information or you are concerned that the data may not reflect you in a favorable light, speak with your attorney. They can help you understand the box, what information it may include, and how it can help or hinder your case. The right attorney can also work to build a case that makes use of the data or refutes it as is appropriate to protect your rights.

Can Insurance Companies Use Black Box Data to Deny Coverage in Michigan?

This is a tricky proposition. Car insurance companies are not permitted to use black boxes to spy on you or observe your driving habits, unless you accept the insurance company’s offer of a “safe driving discount” and put a tracking app on your phone. If you do this, the insurer can gather all the data they like. The telematics app, however, is not the same as your black box.

In some cases, the insurance company may request permission to access your black box. Take care in allowing them such permission. If you allow the insurer permission to access black box data, they may indeed use that data to deny you coverage. This is one reason why it is a good idea to have a personal injury lawyer in your corner who can communicate with the insurance company on your behalf.

We Will Help You Gather the Evidence You Need

Steven Matz and his team bring decades of experience to the table in personal injury cases. We have logged hundreds of thousands of miles and represented clients in almost every county in the state of Michigan. We fight doggedly for our clients and for their rights all the way. We treat every client like a member of our own family, as a compassionate ally in your fight for justice.

We do not charge a fee unless we win your case, and if we do win, we take only 22% for our contingency fee, as opposed to the typical 33% charged by many of our competitors. This leaves you with more compensation to heal.

If you are not certain what your black box can do for you, or you are concerned that EDR data may harm your case, we are here to help. Contact our law offices today at 866-226-6833 or use our online contact form to request a free consultation with a member of our legal team.

steven matz headshot

Written By Steven Matz

Founding Shareholder

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury.

The maximum contingency fee permitted by law is actually 331/3%. Michigan court rules require that the attorney fee be computed on the net sum recovered after deducting all disbursements properly chargeable to the enforcement of the claim.

What does 22not33 mean, exactly?

We can charge 22% while virtually all other injury attorneys charge 331/3% because we are very, very, good at obtaining results for our clients.

We do not spend millions of dollars on television ads; instead, we offer a lower fee to all our clients. We do not have dozens of lower paid associates handling our work. All our clients are represented by Steven and Jared Matz. Steven Matz started the firm in 1977 and since then has dedicated his life to representing injury victims. Jared joined the firm in 2016 but grew up listening to stories, discussing theories, and generally learning at the dinner table about how to effectively and compassionately represent injury victims. Jared Matz was literally born to represent individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee and all our cases are handled at 22%. Whether the case settles or goes through trial, the fee does not change. While our competitors make excuses as to why they charge so much, we are obtaining results for our clients at a lower fee.

At a typical television advertising law firm, your first call will be handled by a receptionist, who may refer you to an intake person, who will discuss your claim with an intake manager, who then discusses your claim with an associate, who may then report to a partner. You may never speak with the person whose name is at the top of the letterhead. At Matz Injury Law you will always speak with either Steven Matz or Jared Matz.