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Automobile Accident Reconstruction: The “Black Box” John K.Powers Powers & Santola, LLP 39 North Pearl Street Albany, New York 12207 (518) 465-5995 Accident Reconstruction: A Trial Lawyer’s Viewpoint Cockpit Voice Recorder Flight Recorder Black Boxes

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automobile accident reconstruction the black box

Automobile Accident Reconstruction:The “Black Box”

John K.PowersPowers & Santola, LLP39 North Pearl StreetAlbany, New York 12207(518)

1999 edr simplified block diagram

Driver Seat Belt


Brake ON/OFF


Vehicle Speed


Engine Speed


Throttle Pos


1999 EDR Simplified Block Diagram

Pre-impact data

Serial data bus



Warning Indicator

Low-pass Filter



  • Microcomputer Including EDR
  • RAM
  • 32k ROM
  • 640 EEPROM

Ignition Switch

Manual Pass.

Airbag Cutoff Sw.

And Indicator

gm systems data stored
GM Systems Data Stored








State of Warning Indicator when event occurred (ON/OFF)

Length of time the warning lamp was illuminated

Crash-sensing activation times or sensing criteria met

Time from vehicle impact to deployment

Diagnostic Trouble Codes present at the time of the event

Ignition cycle count at event time

Maximum Delta-V for near-deployment event

Delta-V vs. time for frontal airbag deployment event

Time from vehicle impact to time of maximum Delta-V

State of driver’s seat belt switch

Time between near-deploy and deploy event (if within 5 seconds)

Passenger's airbag enabled or disabled state

Engine speed (5 sec before impact)

Vehicle speed (5 sec before impact)

Brake status (5 sec before impact)

Throttle position (5 sec before impact)

limitations on data s utility
Limitations on Data’s Utility
  • Systems are designed to record information on frontal impact only
  • The calculation of the severity of the crash (the “delta v”is not exact and can be plus or minus 10%
  • In older vehicles, the seat belt data is recorded only for the driver
ownership of the data
Ownership of the Data
  • GM takes the position that the data is the property of the owner of the vehicle.
  • What if the vehicle is leased?
  • Some automobile insurance policies contain provisions that may give the insurance company the right to retrieve “black box” data.
  • Do the police have the right to download the data?
preserving the data
Preserving the Data
  • Preserve an unbroken chain of custody!
  • Notify all investigators, insurance companies, counsel, tow truck operators, auto repair shop, etc. NOT to move or repair vehicle, or remove the EDR or to retrieve or attempt to retrieve any data from the EDR.
  • Get a TRO, if necessary.
the law
The Law
  • Bachman v. General Motors Corporation, 2002 Ill. App. LEXIS 659 (Appellate Court of Illinois, Fourth District) July 29, 2002.
  • The EDR is not a replacement for the accident reconstructionist.
  • The EDR can be a source of additional data to confirm the conclusions of the accident reconstructionist.
  • The EDR may serve as an effective tool to impeach conclusions reached by accident reconstructionists who fail to consider the data generated by the EDR.
  • A lot of trial lawyers are going to be very busy litigating all of the issues the “black box” will generate during the coming years.