Devices make more information available in personal injury cases

Investigation of Florida car crashes can be a tricky thing, particularly when there are different accounts of what happened. In some cases, the driver is the only person that really has access to what actually happened. But little devices that are becoming more and more common in new vehicles could change that.

The devices are known as black boxes, and about 96 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States have them. The devices have been in use for some time by car companies for evaluating the performance of their vehicles, but that data holds promise for use in investigating traffic accidents. There are still reliability and privacy concerns surrounding the use of the boxes, but that hasn’t stopped the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from recommending that all new vehicles use them.

Despite the potential usefulness of the information, there is not yet any government guidance as to how the data on these black boxes should be used. So far, fourteen states have passed laws saying that law enforcement officers and those involved in civil litigation may have access to information stored on black boxes, if they obtain a court order. Florida does not specifically regulate black boxes, but the 4th District Court of Appeals has ruled that the information can be used in criminal trials.  Whether or not the devices provide reliable information is still an issue, though.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is advocating universal access to information stored on black boxes, and some police departments are being trained on how to extract the information with a tool that is commercially available.

As this issue is debated among states, it could change what information attorneys have access to in contested civil cases, as well as how criminal investigations are conducted.

Source: New York Times, “A Black Box for Car Crashes,” Jaclyn Trop, July 21, 2013.