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How Semi-Truck Black Boxes May Provide Evidence for an Accident Claim


You may know that airplanes have “black boxes” that record what was going on with the aircraft in the moments leading up to a crash. However, you may not know that commercial trucks also often have these black boxes, which can provide crucial evidence in the event of an Oregon or Washington truck accident case, especially those where little is known about the accident.

Truck accidents can cause tremendous damage and are among the deadliest types of motor vehicle accidents. According to the most recent data available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than 5,000 trucks were involved in fatal accidents in 2018. This represented a ten-year high in the number of fatal truck accidents. Sadly, in these fatal truck accidents, there may be no one who saw what happened aside from the truck driver, who may offer an incomplete or biased version of the events leading up to the accident. This can leave people with many questions about the accident that caused their injuries or claimed their loved one’s life. In many cases, black box data of accident evidence may be the only concrete evidence that a truck driver was negligent or caused an accident.

Truck Accidents and Black Box Evidence

Black boxes—more officially called electronic control modules (ECMs) or event data recorders (EDRs)—are small data-recording devices that track various details about a truck and how it is traveling. There are different types of black boxes, but generally, they record data and transmit it to the trucking company or some third-party company when the truck is involved in an accident or a “near accident.” A near accident may be when the truck driver quickly applies the brakes or suddenly cranks the wheel to one side to avoid a collision.

The following are some of the things that a black box keeps track of:

  • The speed of the truck at the time of an accident;
  • The acceleration or deceleration of the truck immediately before an accident;
  • Whether the truck driver applied the brakes before a collision;
  • Whether the truck driver was using cruise control;
  • How long the truck driver was on the road;
  • Whether the truck’s airbag deployed;
  • GPS information of the truck’s location;
  • The tire pressure of each of the truck’s tires; and
  • The truck’s revolutions per minute (RPMs).

This data can be critical to piecing together how an accident occurred and determining whether the truck driver caused or contributed to the accident. The FMCSA keeps track of the leading causes of fatal truck accidents, which include:

  • Brake problems,
  • Speeding,
  • Drug use,
  • Fatigue,
  • Illegal traffic maneuvers,
  • Inattention or distraction,
  • Following too closely, and
  • Tire problems.

When looking at each of these causes of Oregon truck accidents, a black box contains information that could shed light on almost all of them. Thus, it is imperative to preserve the data contained in a black box.

Preserving Black Box Data as Accident Evidence

Generally, black boxes on most newer trucks record data for a 30-day period before writing over the data. Black boxes in older trucks may write over data after a shorter period. Thus, it is important to act quickly when bringing a truck accident lawsuit.

While black boxes are a useful tool for accident victims and their families, most trucking companies see these data-collection tools as a thorn in their side. Thus, trucking companies are not likely to hand over black box accident data unless compelled to do so by the court and often want to get rid of the data on a black box as soon as possible.

Typically, under the discovery rules, once a trucking company is aware that a driver was in an accident, they are under a duty to preserve all evidence of the crash. However, trucking companies may be able to access the data on the black box before any other party. And it isn’t unheard of for trucking companies to destroy this data, knowing that it could potentially lead to the company being found responsible for the collision.

This is where a dedicated Oregon trucking accident legal practitioner can play a crucial role. As soon as you retain a lawyer to work on your case, they will send a letter to the trucking company, before a case is even filed. This letter will describe the accident and direct the trucking company not to destroy any black box accident data. If the trucking company destroys the data after receiving this letter, it may be subject to sanctions. For example, a court may instruct the jury that the evidence, had it been preserved, would have been unfavorable to the party that destroyed it. This is called a spoliation instruction.

An attorney can also retain the assistance of an expert witness if there are concerns that the trucking company is not providing complete and accurate information pulled from the black box.

Occasionally, a trucking company may refuse to hand over part or all of the black box data. In this case, your attorney can petition the court for a temporary injunction to prevent the trucking company from destroying the evidence until the court holds a hearing determining whether you are entitled to the black box data.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington or Oregon Truck Accident?

If you or someone you love was recently involved in a serious truck accident, contact the dedicated Oregon and Washington personal injury legal team at D’Amore Law Group. Our attorneys have extensive experience handling truck accidents and are intimately familiar with obtaining and interpreting black box data. With our help, you may be able to recover significant compensation for your injuries or losses.

When you decide to enlist the assistance of our dedicated attorneys, you can rest assured that your case is in capable and caring hands. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation with one of our Washington and Oregon trucking accident legal practitioners, give us a call or reach out through our online form.

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