What's In A Car Black Box And Why Does It Matter?
On March 3, 2021, the Associated Press reported that Los Angeles County detectives have obtained a warrant to search Tiger Woods' 2021 Genesis SUV's “black box” which contains important data about Woods' February 23, 2021 solo crash that left his SUV mangled and his leg and ankle bones shattered.
The black box is also known as a data recorder, event data recorder (EDR) or sensing and diagnostic modules (SDM),
Woods is world-known for driving the golf ball, but he's also made headlines when he's in the driver's seat. This is the third time that Woods has made the news when it comes to what he does when he gets behind the wheel.
It's worth noting that there may be more than a little bit of celebrity justice and awe at play when it comes to the law enforcement investigation of Woods' latest crash. In severe crashes like this, blood is often drawn when the driver in question is brought to the hospital. In February 23, 2021, Woods was still recovering from his latest back surgery which took place in December 23, 2020.
But, this type of investigation did not occur in Woods' case. This means that any proof about whether painkillers or other substances may have been in Woods blood at the time of the crash are long gone.
A regular citizen may very well have been subjected to higher scrutiny than celebrities such as Woods, especially if that regular citizen had been convicted of reckless driving just a few years ago. In October 2017, Woods was found behind the wheel with five drugs in his system: Hydrocodone (an opioid pain medication); Hydromorphone (another type of painkiller); Xanax (an anti-anxiety drug); Ambien (a sleeping pill) and Delta-9 carboxy THC (found in marijuana).
How long have car black boxes been around?
A basic “black box” was first introduced by GM in the mid-1970s. Problems came up due to variances in what one manufacturer stored in their black box versus another manufacturer. This problem got fixed by a rule by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that took effect Sept. 1, 2012.
When do the cops need a warrant to search a car black box?
The warrant seeks to find out what exactly Woods' vehicle was doing right before and right after his February 23, 2021 solo Los Angeles County crash in which he suffered shattered bones in his leg and ankle.
In California law about black boxes says there are four ways to access the black box data:
1. With the SUV owner's permission
In California, the owner of a car owns that car's black box too. This includes all the data in the black box. In Woods' case, they may have asked Woods if they can extract the data contained on the SUV's black box.
Pictures of Woods' crashed 2021 Genesis SUV have the words “Genesis Invitational”, and a logo, on the sides of the SUV. The weekend before this crash, Woods was hosting the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational. This means that the owner of the SUV in question may not be Woods, but rather the Genesis Invitational. If that's the case, then law enforcement would have had to get the permission of the Genesis Invitational, and not Woods, to access the black box.
2. By a court order
The first way to get to the black box data is if the owner gives consent. In this case, the SUV owner may have said no, and that's why a warrant was obtained.
3. For vehicle safety research
4. To diagnose, service, or repair the vehicle.
What does a car black box tell you?
Just like the data they store after an airplane crash, “black boxes” track vehicle data such as speed, acceleration, braking, steering, and air-bag deployment before, during, and after a crash.
California law about black boxes covers all motor vehicles manufactured on or after July 1, 2004 and lists what the black box recorded and stored in Woods' SUV:
- How fast and in which direction the SUV was traveling.
- Where the SUV traveled.
- Steering performance.
- Brake performance, including, but not limited to, whether brakes were applied before an accident.
- Driver's seatbelt status.
- Can also transmit information about the SUV crash to a central communications system when an accident occurs.
Federal law about car black boxes says that the “black box” must record at least this information:
- airbag deployment
- seat belt use
- impact severity (Delta-V)
- braking, and
- speed (incrementally for the last five seconds right before the accident).
How is black box data used in auto accident cases?
When it comes to auto accidents, three major uses for black box data include:
Law Enforcement: Validate who caused the crash by the impartial data contained in the black box
Insurance Companies: Impartial data that the insurance company can use to settle claims
Accident victims: This impartial data can be used by accident reconstruction experts and experts in black box data.
How can I access my black box data after a crash?
Even though the black box and its data are the property of the vehicle's owner. Although no specialized tools are required to get to the black box itself, specialized tools are required to extract and analyze its data.
If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident and you're injured, please call me. I'm Renée Yvonne Gardner, the attorney at Gardner Law.
I help people who get injured in motor vehicle accidents, including cases involving black box data.