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18-Wheeler Black Box Data

In a serious or even fatal accident with a commercial vehicle such as an 18-Wheeler, new advances in ECM (Engine Control Module) data have made it possible to get a 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 are all able to contribute to a 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 black box data is obtained

Sometimes after an accident, when the initial investigation is being done, police officers are 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 be done before the truck is repaired or driven, so that no information is lost. Unfortunately, some trucking companies will try to obtain this data before anyone else can so that they have a head start in the case. In addition, if the information is not obtained at the scene, and if no one else requests it, 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.

Not a Moment to Waste The importance of a prompt investigation...Read More >

What information can the black box provide?

ECMs have been improved so that they are now able to record a large amount of information. Some ECMs are more advanced than others, but most at least provide a bare minimum amount of information right before impact and and at the time of impact. The minimum amount of information ECMs might have is still very useful information: When the truck began a “hard” or sudden brake, what speed the truck was going just before and on impact, and the number of times of impact. More information might include:

  • If the driver was wearing a safety belt
  • The hours that the vehicle has been in service
  • GPS location at the time of impact
  • Email correspondence between driver and supervisor
  • Average Speed
  • Tire pressure

This list is not exhaustive of the information that the black box can provide, but each company may install a different type of ECM that may record more or less information.

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, it would be a sign that the driver may have been not paying attention, asleep, intoxicated, etc. It can also show if the driver was speeding at the time of the accident, which might reaffirm a scene where the accident scene points to the fault of the truck driver. The black box can also show important information that may not be so obvious. For example, if the truck driver has been overworked, the black box can show the hours that the vehicle has been in service. If the truck driver has been the driver for the entire time the truck was in service, and the truck is in service beyond the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act(FMCSA)”hours-of-service rules,” then it may be the case that the employer, or the actual trucking company, overworked the driver. If it turns out that the driver was overworked, the company may be held liable for their overworked employee’s actions.

If the accident is not the truck driver’s fault, the black box data can also work to benefit him or her. For example, if the witness statements say the 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.

Roles in a truck accident case

In a study done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the top three causes in truck accident cases where the driver was found to be at fault included failure to yield, failure to stay in lane, and speeding, all of which can be recorded 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 to their employees. Like the case mentioned above, sometimes the employer may be overworking the truck driver, not requiring the truck to be inspected enough, or it may be a case of negligent hiring, controlling, or supervising.

Regardless of who the black box data benefits, it is useful information when investigating a case. For a victim or their family, it often uncovers 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 main reasons that most people seek the advice of an attorney. 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 take a profit 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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