Most people are familiar with the term “black box” as it relates to airline accident investigations. This box is meant to serve as a recording device that can withstand a plane crash and allow investigators to obtain a full picture of what happened in the cockpit before the plane went down. This device makes sense for airline crash investigations where there may not be any survivors, so wouldn’t black boxes be installed in large semi-trucks that canvas the roadways?
Up until a few years ago, the answer was “no.”
Recent laws and regulations regarding black box requirements in commercial semi-trucks have changed as people began to realize how these black boxes can help with accident investigations.
However, it’s important to note at the outset that as much as these devices can help with accident investigations, there are many moving parts to crashes involving semi-trucks: both legally and physically.
Retaining an experienced trucking accident attorney in New Orleans early in the process can be crucial to ensuring your rights are protected.In 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported approximately 130,000 crashes involving large commercial trucks. The FMCSA found that nearly 15% of these accidents were the result of impaired driving – including driving while fatigued – and a call for the installation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in semi-trucks followed.
Two years later, the FMCSA announced that all commercial trucks and bus companies would be required to use ELDs in their vehicles.
ELDs are commonly referred to as black boxes, and function very similarly to those found on airplanes. The device logs a wide range of information that can be used to determine how the truck and the driver were operating in the moments leading up to an accident. While the traditional black box found in planes is meant to record information that can help investigators determine the cause of a crash, the devices installed in commercial semi-trucks actually go a bit further.
Because the FMCSA required trucks to install devices in response to growing concern regarding driver fatigue, these black boxes reveal other information about the operation of the truck before an accident.
Information that may be revealed includes:
- Seatbelt use
- Number of hours the truck has been operating
- Driver speed (including average speed)
- GPS coordinates
- Tire pressure
- Steering position
- Email correspondence between driver and supervisor
- Brake activity, including hard braking and sudden stops
- Deployment of airbags
Although most of this information is mandated in order to monitor and track trucker driving behavior, these black boxes can also be extremely valuable when filing an injury claim against a truck driver or trucking company.
Unfortunately, when such a claim is filed, most trucking and insurance companies will do everything they can do ensure the claimant does not obtain the information in the black boxAlthough the FMCSA requires that all commercial trucks and buses are equipped with ELDs, unfortunately, obtaining this information isn’t always simple or straightforward.
To add to the difficulty, drivers and trucking companies aren’t legally required to share this information following an accident. In fact, most companies will fight against having to reveal this information, as it could prove that the driver was liable for the accident.
When performing an initial crash investigation, police officers can often obtain the black box data and provide that data to the parties involved. However, many do not have the required tools to access the black box on their own and must rely on third parties to obtain the information.
This can be a large concern for someone seeking to file a claim against a trucker or a trucking company. If the truck is taken away from the scene for repairs before the box is obtained, the trucking company or third party can remove the data before it’s shared with the other involved parties. If you are involved in an accident with a semi-truck, it’s important to ensure that you obtain the data in the black box. If you contact an experienced and qualified attorney right after the crash, the attorney can contact appropriate individuals or be on-scene to help ensure the box is not moved or manipulated.