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The future of Black Boxes in cars

June 01 2014

Black boxes in aircraft are familiar to most people, but less well understood is how this type of technology is transferring to cars.  In the USA, for example, from 1st September 2014, all new motor cars, light goods vehicles, vans and SUVs must be fitted with a ‘black box’ or Event Data Recorder (EDR).  This includes sales in the USA of imported vehicles with a gross weight of less than 8500 pounds.  In Europe, similar legislation is being introduced for all new cars sold after October 2015.

So how do EDRs on motor vehicles work?

EDRs are also known as Incident Data Recorders or Journey Loggers as well as Black Boxes.  They are small devices fitted within a vehicle which monitor and/or record aspects of how the vehicle is being driven.  Information that may be collected by an EDR includes:

  • Time and date
  • Location
  • Speed
  • Acceleration
  • Brake application
  • Lights being displayed including indicators

Some EDRs are also attached to a GPS unit (global positioning system) that records the vehicle's location and transmits information back to a base station.

Currently in the UK, the majority of police and emergency service vehicles already use EDRs to enable their control rooms to know the locations of their vehicles at any one time.  Not surprisingly, many large commercial haulage companies and bus operators are also installing such instruments in their fleets.

The increased use of EDRs in private motor vehicles is being encouraged by insurance companies.  Insurance companies are well aware that most serious injury and fatal collisions occur late at night or early in the morning.  Hence they are increasingly offering higher risk drivers cheaper policies if they agree to have an EDR with a GPS unit fitted and agree not to use their vehicle during certain times.  The car remains insured if used during the curfew period but the insured will incur significant financial penalties.  An added bonus for the insurers of high value cars is that, if fitted with an EDR/GPS device, a stolen vehicle should be easier to locate. 

Keith Borer Consultants already has experience in evaluating data downloaded from EDRs, principally in road incidents involving police vehicles.  We are one of only two licensed software holders, outside the police and the manufacturer, for the type of  EDRs fitted to the majority of police vehicles in the UK.  This enables us to download and analyse the source data.

Keith Borer Consultants' Jim Keenan led the evaluation of data in a landmark case involving a fatal collision of a police vehicle whose driver was participating in an advanced driving exercise.  From the data recorded, Mr Keenan was able to reconstruct how both the police instructor's and training vehicles were being driven.  Ultimately, this contributed to the Court requiring Lancashire Constabulary to re-assess the health and safety risks of their advanced driver training exercises. 

The move to fitting EDRs to private vehicles is being driven by legislation as well as the insurance industry.  On 21st June 2011, the European Parliament voted in favour of fitting EDRs in all new vehicles from the end of October 2015.  Subsequently, the European Commission has also ruled that by the same date all new cars and vans sold in Europe must be fitted with technology that contains a mobile phone-like SIM card designed to transmit the vehicle’s location to emergency services in the event of an accident.  This appears to be very different approach to EDR use in vehicles in the USA.  We will provide further updates on the European system as information is released ahead of the compulsory introduction of devices in 2015.

If, in the meantime, you have a case involving vehicles fitted with EDRs and need an evaluation of the data, please contact the team at Keith Borer Consultants.

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