Black boxes collect crucial information in crashes - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Black boxes collect crucial information in crashes

It's not really black, but is does record your car's data, like the black box on an airplane. It's not really black, but is does record your car's data, like the black box on an airplane.
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Albany- Driving is every day business. Too often, so are wrecks. But there is a wreck, a computer inside many cars records the entire thing.

"I don't even think a lot of people realize that these computers are in their cars," said Albany attorney Billy Mathis.

But if you drive a late model General Motors vehicle or a Ford, it's probably there. The electronic data recorder and the information it collects is often used by attorneys, like Mathis, to prove cases.

"It takes a lot of the guess work out of the cases," he said. "It can be helpful in showing what truly happened in that collision."

The EDR hidden away, sometimes under the seat of the car. Accident reconstructionist Van Calhoun can get inside. With a Crash Data Retrieval System, Calhoun can determine what happened just before and during a wreck, all through a laptop computer.

"It would give me five seconds of information before the air bag deploys," Calhoun said.

In those five seconds, the EDR shows how fast the car was going, the engine RPM, whether the brake light is on, the throttle position and whether the driver was wearing a seat belt.

"As well as the collision event itself," Calhoun said.

The small box may not look like much.

"But it is very reliable information."

Maybe so, but it's not the reason automobile manufacturers put them in cars. The EDR is the device that triggers the airbag.

"That was not put in there for litigation purposes. That's not why it's there," Calhoun said. "The information is there to be collected and used for safety purposes."

Regardless of why it's in many of our vehicles, some people argue it's an invasion of our privacy. When a vehicle is purchased from a dealership, the buyer isn't told about the EDR. Dealerships managers told us that's because they aren't given the information either. And you won't find it in the owner's manual.

"I don't think there would really be a privacy issue at all, if the automobile manufacturers would simply let people know they're in their cars," Mathis said.

Then, if you're following the rules of the road, but are in a wreck, you may be glad the box is there. "If you're driving at the speed limit and you have an accident and you have the black box, you've got something that shows you're driving the speed limit," Calhoun said.

"I mean it's not like they record what you've done for the last 30 days in your automobile," Mathis said. "It's just a few seconds."

A few seconds that can tell a lot about an everyday driver's business.

posted by brannon.stewart@walb.com

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