Motor Vehicle Safety and the Little Black Box

Almost all cars being manufactured these days have a little black box installed, similar to the infamous ones on airplanes.  And they perform a similar function.  These simple event data recorders (EDRs) could become major factors in personal injury litigation.  Most likely, an experienced car accident lawyer will be asking for the EDR following serious motor vehicle accidents in Massachusetts.

What do they record?  Speed, seat belt use, steering wheel usage, date and time.  They record significant information from prior to a crash:  speed, break application, impact speed, and more.  In other words, they could provide very helpful for proving a victim of a motor vehicle accident’s case in court.

What is the Law on Motor Vehicle EDRs?

Right now they are not required, although they are being installed.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a part of the US Department of Transportation in Washington is asking that EDRs be required for all new vehicles starting next year.

Only 13 states have legislation stating that the information in the EDR is the property of the driver.  Massachusetts is not one of those states.  The Connecticut EDR law, for example, allows the police to secure a search warrant and then remove the EDR.  The New Hampshire EDR law is the same.

Massachusetts does not have any EDR law, but is one far off?

Civil Rights Verses Abuse for Vehicle Users

Of course, there is ample concern about civil rights.  Can these devices be obtained by the police without a warrant?  Not in New Hampshire or Connecticut.  Under what circumstances can they be retrieved?  And, what about simply driving by a target vehicle and wirelessly accessing the data?

When the police get a warrant following an important criminal investigation that is one thing.  But what about when there is insufficient evidence, or, when the investigation is not by the police?

Insurance Companies and EDRs

More importantly for law abiding citizens is what information will the insurance company be able to obtain?  If they can download the information on your EDR, they can see your propensity to speed, to wear a seat belt, and to drive erratically.

Is it a slippery slope?  Will they say and do little until the technology is there and then demand access?  This could have an effect on insurance rates.  And will that be fair?  The little old lady who only drives slowly to the store on Sundays may look clean, but she may mistake the gas for the break and be more dangerous than someone who exceeds the speed limit late at night.

Will it Happen In Massachusetts?

It already is.  When Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray was involved in a single car accident on the Massachusetts Turnpike, he declared that he was driving safely.  It turns out, according to the EDR his state owned vehicle was driving, he failed to wear his seat belt and he was driving at 100 miles per hour.

Let’s be clear.  There is no EDR law in Massachusetts, so it’s not clear what you have the right to.  It is clear that the newer the vehicle, however, the more likely it is to have the EDR.  It makes sense to see if you can secure the information in the EDR when you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident.

Experienced Motor Vehicle Attorneys and the EDR

If you have been a victim of a serious motor vehicle collision, it makes sense to retain the services of an experienced car accident attorney.  This new technology may likely play into your case.  You need someone who knows how to subpoena the information, obtain an expert, and use the information in the EDR to help prove your case.

Call Attorney Neil Burns at 617-227-7423.  He has been litigating personal injury cases since 1985.

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