Pending Legislation Would Require Electronic Recording Devices in New Cars

circuit_board.jpg On April 24 2012, the Senate passed S.1813, titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or the “MAP-21” for short. The bill is now sitting in House of Representative for waiting for approval as H.R. 4348. The bill provides for general highway funding and also new motor vehicle safety regulations. Title 1, Section 31406 of the bill requires that all new cars sold in the United States as of 2015 be equipped with an event data recorder (EDR). EDRs are electronic devices, generally housed with a car’s airbag, which record certain information about the car’s movement seconds before and during a crash.

The provision requiring EDRs be a standard addition to new cars as of 2015 follows the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration‘s (NHTSA) publication of nationwide standards for the devices in August 2006. According the final rules, the NHTSA estimates that 64% of cars already had EDRs by 2005. However, guidelines for the installation of EDRs were sought from the NHTSA in order to improve accuracy and data collection. The NHTSA standards provide that as of 2013 all EDRs must record:

•Change in forward crash speed •Maximum change in forward crash speed •Time from beginning of crash at which the maximum change in forward crash speed occurs •Speed vehicle was traveling •Percentage of engine throttle, percentage full (how far the accelerator pedal was pressed)
•Whether or not brake was applied •Ignition cycle (number of power cycles applied to the EDR) at the time of the crash •Ignition cycle (number of power cycles applied to the EDR) when the EDR data were downloaded •Whether or not driver was using safety belt •Whether or not frontal airbag warning lamp was on •Driver frontal airbag deployment: time to deploy for a single stage airbag, or time to first stage deployment for a multistage airbag •Right front passenger frontal airbag deployment: time to deploy for a single stage airbag, or time to first stage deployment for a multistage airbag •Number of crash events •Time between first two crash events, if applicable •Whether or not EDR completed recording
The NHTSA sees EDRs as a great tool to collect data on the circumstances of accidents where the airbag was deployed. Of course, not everyone has access to the recorded data. In a physical sense, EDRs are fairly inaccessible and require the same diagnostic equipment and codes to extract the information as many other computerized components found in newer cars. The proposed law would also reinforce existing legal precedent in states such as in California, which have determined that the device’s data belongs to the vehicle’s owner. In a California case EDR data was disallowed into evidence because police officers did not obtain a warrant before downloading and reviewing crash data from an SUV involved in a fatal DUI accident. Therefore, the data may not be collected without the owner’s permission, barring a court order to discover information. Drivers should look for provisions in their car insurance policy that agree to provide their insurance company with the data in the case of an accident. Some insurance companies, such as State Farm, are also providing portable tracking devices to drivers that record similar information as EDRs, in exchange for lower rates.

Just as the NHTSA finds the potential crash information from EDRs useful for research and improving motor vehicle safety, personal injury plaintiffs may find EDRs useful in proving their claim. EDRs could very likely be discoverable in such cases. The information would be invaluable to a crash reconstruction expert hired to evaluate who was at fault in the accident in question. EDRs are not a smoking gun in every case, as many do not record through an entire accident or may be damaged in an accident. Individuals involved in a personal injury lawsuit should consult with their attorney to determine the pros and cons of pursuing such evidence in their case.

Gregory Brod is the managing attorney at the Brod Law Firm. The Brod Law Firm provides outstanding legal services to personal injury victims in San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Please call us today for a free consultation about your personal injury claim.