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For years, car manufacturers have been installing Event Data Recorders (EDRs) in passenger vehicles. These devices are akin to pared-down versions of the infamous "black box" contained in the cockpit of every commercial airplane. The average individual may not realize this data is being recorded or how it is used by manufacturers, or even more importantly how it can be used to support your product liability lawsuit against a manufacturer or a lawsuit against another driver if you get hurt in a crash. 

EDRs have been installed in some passenger vehicles as far back as the mid-1970s, recording the functioning of airbags in the first generation of cars that had them. As airbags became a more standard feature in the 1990s, so did EDRs. By 2005, 64% of all new cars possessed an EDR. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that all new cars currently have some form of EDR, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a rule that would make EDRs mandatory in all new cars.

What exactly do the EDRs record? Unlike the black boxes in airplanes, EDRs in passenger vehicles only record data from various sensors located throughout the car, and not audio from the car's cabin. The devices were originally designed to be a computing hub to track the functioning of the airbag, and to monitor and optimize fuel efficiency by detecting information such as throttle position and air flow in the engine. The devices are now connected to a variety of sensors throughout the vehicle, recording data such as the vehicle's speed, whether the driver's seatbelt is fastened, how fast a car is accelerating, and whether the brakes are being applied. Normally, these recordings are overwritten every five seconds. However, when the airbag is deployed or nearly deployed, the EDR will retain the data from five seconds before, and five seconds after, the impact that caused the airbag to be deployed. The EDR will also record such information as whether the vehicle was impacted by any other cars immediately preceding the impact that caused the airbag to deploy (i.e., if a sideswipe caused the car to careen into another car). Analysts and insurance companies can use this data to reconstruct an accident, or to determine if a car's mechanical failure played a role in a crash.

New Jersey has passed a law that subjects the data from EDRs to certain protections. This data is only available under the following circumstances: pursuant to driver consent or a search warrant, for the purpose of vehicle safety research, for diagnosing mechanical issues, for facilitating emergency personnel response, or pursuant to a civil lawsuit discovery request. Some insurance contracts also include clauses where the driver agrees to allow this data to be used for investigation purposes after a crash.

If you've been hurt in a New Jersey car accident and need a skilled personal injury to assist you in pursuing the recovery you're owed, contact the Morristown car accident law firm Smith & Doran for a consultation, at 973-292-0016.

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Smith & Gaynor, LLC
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