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18-Wheeler Black Box Data

In any crash involving a large commercial vehicle, new advances in ECM (Engine Control Module) data have made it possible to get a much clearer picture of what happened at the scene of the accident. Most large trucks have these ECMs, or "black boxes," which are able to record data relating to what happened right before and during an accident. This information can benefit a variety of people including the truck drivers themselves, other cars involved in the accident, police or insurance investigators, attorneys, private investigators, and accident reconstructionists. This article will outline how black box data is obtained, what information it can provide, how this information can help reconstruct the accident scene, and how these all contribute to proving your truck accident case.


Questions Answered On This Page:

  • Are trucks required to have a black box?
  • What type of information is stored on an 18-wheeler's black box?
  • How does black box data help with accident investigations?
  • How does black box data benefit your injury case?

How Is Black Box Data Obtained?

When police are performing their initial investigation just after a collision, they are sometimes able to obtain black box data, but it's often the case that they don't have the tools to access this themselves. The American Trucking Association estimates that truck speed from ECM data is only reported in half of fatal crashes. If the police officers can't or don't obtain this information, it can be done by insurance investigators, attorneys, private investigators, or accident reconstructionists.

One important thing to note is that this should ideally be done before the truck is driven away from the scene for repairs, so that no information is lost. Unfortunately, some trucking companies will try to obtain this data before anyone else can to give themselves a head start in the case. In addition, if the information is not obtained at the scene, and if no one else performs the legal work required to obtain it from them, the owners of the trucking company will be the only ones with this information at all. If the accident was the truck driver's fault, this can be a huge problem for victims pursuing justice.

What information can the black box provide?

ECMs have been improved over the years, so that they are now able to record a much larger variety of data that can be used to prove what happened around the time of a collision. Some ECMs are more advanced than others, but most at least provide a bare minimum amount of information about how the vehicle was operated right before impact and and at the time of impact. The relatively limited amount of information ECMs might have is still very useful: when the truck began a "hard" or sudden brake, what speed the truck was traveling just before and during impact, and the number of collisions between the semi-truck and other vehicles or objects. Other information might include:

  • Whether the driver was wearing a safety belt
  • The vehicle's hours of service
  • GPS location at the time of impact
  • Email correspondence between driver and supervisor
  • Average speed
  • Tire pressure

This is not an exhaustive list of the information that a black box may be able to provide, and different companies may also install different types of ECM, some of which may record more or less information than others.

How the black box helps to reconstruct the accident

So how does this information help in reconstructing the scene of the accident? Some of these are fairly obvious, since, for example, if the black box recorded that the driver failed to brake at all before a collision, it would be a sign that the driver was more than likely distracted, asleep, or intoxicated. It can also show whether the driver was speeding at the time of the accident, which might be helpful in a case where the accident scene seems to place fault on the trucker.

The black box can also show information which, while it may not be as obvious, is still very important. For example, if the truck driver has been overworked and had not had sufficient sleep before a wreck, the black box will show how long the vehicle has been in service. If the truck driver involved in the crash has been behind the wheel for the entire time the truck was in service, and that period extends beyond the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) hours-of-service limits, then the trucking may be held liable for allowing, or even pressuring, the driver to work under conditions not permitted by the regulations.

If the accident is genuinely not the truck driver's fault, the black box data can also work to exonerate him or her. For example, if the witness statements say the semi-truck seemed to be speeding when a car pulled out in front of the driver, the black box might show that he or she was, in fact, going the speed limit.

The role of ECM data in a truck accident case

In a study done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the top three causes of truck accident cases where the driver was found to be at fault included failure to yield, failure to maintain lane, and speeding, all of which can be documented by the ECM. This information can be used to support or challenge eye-witness accounts, or to hold the employer responsible when they have been negligent in managing their employees. As in the case mentioned above, sometimes the employer may be overworking the truck driver, not requiring the truck to be inspected enough, or have negligently hired, controlled, or supervised the driver.

Regardless of who the black box data benefits, it is useful information when investigating a case. For a victim or their family, it often helps to prove what really happened at the accident scene, which may not be found any other way. Knowing what happened and helping to prevent future accidents are the two major reasons that most people seek the advice of an attorney, regardless of what happened in the crash. In law offices like ours, these individuals benefit from our services by finding information, even if they end up not having a claim, since we never receive compensation unless we win a case. If you have other questions about black boxes or want to speak about your claim, call us any time at (855)326-0000. Though our main office is based in Dallas, Texas, we have served multiple cases throughout Texas, and are ready to speak with you about any of your questions or concerns.


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