As with airplanes, now many cars are equipped with what is known as black boxes. These devices were originally used by car companies starting around 1990 to ensure the proper functioning of the vehicle. They were instrumental in the Toyota cases where drivers were alleging sudden acceleration of the car. Cars are more sophisticated than ever before, with many parts being electronic, and it has become feasible to record the actions inside the vehicle to detect if anything is going wrong. Items such as the speed of the vehicle, seat belt use, the deployment of airbags, and the impact of the crash can now be electronically recorded and recaptured.
This new information in black boxes is good and bad for injury lawsuits. The first issue is expense. It may be too expensive to request such evidence to prove a claim and thus, may not yet become a regular fixture of evidence for courts. As of 2013, black boxes are not required on all vehicles sold in the United States but virtually all new cars are equipped with them. Cars with black boxes are required to disclose such information in the owners’ manual. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to make them required on all new vehicles in 2014.
The next issue is whether this new technology would be admissible. It is best to consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction for specific guidance as state laws can vary. In Illinois, one case to note is Bachman v. General Motors. In this case, the court held that the evidence from the automobile’s black box was admissible under the Frye standard. The evidence was used to contradict the allegation that the airbag in the car was defective.
The largest issues are the privacy concerns as a result of this technology. Insurance companies and law enforcement have been embracing this technology as it provides improved investigation of accidents. But who owns the information? It is important to check your insurance policies as they may have a provision stating a right to access black box information in the event of a claim on your insurance policy. Law enforcement in many states are able to obtain this information. In some instances, the makers of the black boxes can claim ownership. Issues with increased information placed in the box to disclose personal information such as GPS location is a concern about government overreach. For example, Congress has debated the use of mileage-based gas taxes and the information could come from a mandatory yearly evaluation of a car’s black box before registration on the vehicle. As more information is put in the black box these issues will continue to be litigated.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance. If you have a case concerning black box technology please call one of our attorneys atDavid K. Kremin & Associates, and we will give you a free consultation. We never charge unless we collect for you. Please call 1(800) ASK-A-LAWYER or 1(800)275-2529.