Crash Data Retrieval Systems – The "Black Box" that's Already in Your Car

Automobile Accidents

July 18, 2011

We are all familiar with the “black box” recording system used in airplanes that records voice and electronic data that is used after a crash to determine what happened.[1] What you may not be as familiar with is that this same type of system is in every new car manufactured today with an airbag.  This Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) system does not record voice transmissions, but it records a variety of other data, including speed, velocity, brake application, etc.   Depending on the manufacturer, this CDR system records data ranging from 5 minutes before to several milliseconds after a crash.  Even if the airbag is not deployed in a collision, the CDR system still records the information.

This information can be potentially very useful in a wide variety of motor vehicle collisions to determine the forces involved in the collision and can conclusively determine the speed of the vehicle and forces involved with that vehicle.  Speed is notoriously under reported in motor vehicle collisions by all drivers.

Several manufacturers[2] have released their proprietary codes so that forensic accident reconstruction experts so equipped can access the “black box” and get a CRD Report that shows this information.  By 2012, all manufacturers are required to disclose their CDR codes on new cars sold in the US.

If you are ever involved in a frontal collision, even if your airbag does not deploy, your CDR system has recorded the crash data.  It is therefore important to take steps to preserve this information, as this data is typically lost forever once the vehicle is turned off and then started again.  For example, if you are in a collision in an uncontrolled intersection, this information can corroborate your speed and braking prior to the collision.  If you are in this situation, it would be a good idea to first ask the investigating policy agency if they can retrieve this data from your car – many police agencies are so equipped.  If the police cannot retrieve this data, have your car towed to a repair facility equipped to download this information.  It could make the difference between the other driver’s insurance company deny liability or accepting it.

[1] Interestingly, the box is actually orange, not black, so that it can be seen and identified easier.

[2] Ford, GM, Chrysler, Suzuki, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Sterling, Fiat, Saturn, Toyota and Scion.  A special thank you to Officer Steve Harbinson of The City of Edmonds, WA Police Department for providing this information.