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“Black Boxes” and Commercial Trucking Accidents

“Black Boxes” and Commercial Trucking Accidents

When reconstructing truck accidents, it isn’t unusual for statements made by those involved in an accident to give conflicting accounts of how an accident happened. In some cases, reports made by eyewitnesses to an accident may help to “sort out” these conflicting statements by verifying the account given by one party or the other. Unfortunately, there are many accidents where there are no such eyewitness reports available.

In the following article the commercial trucking accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will discuss how a personal injury lawyer can use the electronic devices that are installed on most commercial trucks, as well as data from other sources, to recreate the circumstances leading to a trucking accident.

The “Black Boxes”

Everyone has heard of the electronic flight data recorders, the “black boxes,” that are installed on commercial aircraft. These devices record information such as altitude, speed, engine conditions, and voice communications in the cockpit and are invaluable in determining the causes of aircraft accidents. However, most people are unaware that most commercial trucks contain similar devices called Engine Control Modules and Electronic Logging Devices.

Engine Control Module

Since the 1990s, practically every commercial truck manufactured in the United States contains a device known as the “Engine Control Module” (ECM) or some similar name. Regardless of what it is called, this device measures and records the truck’s engine conditions such as operating temperature, fuel mixture, gear selection, and engine exhaust temperature. These units can also record other data such as the vehicle’s speed and brake use. Following an accident, this information can be downloaded and used to create a “snapshot” of how the truck was being operated prior to an accident.

Electronic Logging Device

An Electronic Logging Device (ELD) is intended to replace the use of paper logbooks where drivers record data such as hours of service and other information required by federal and/or state law. Many trucking companies use ELD systems to automatically record data such as a truck’s location via GPS, cargo, and other information that would have required the driver to contact the company dispatcher before such systems became widely available. Although there are a number of exemptions to the ELD regulations, many trucking companies have voluntarily adopted these systems as add-ons to their equipment.

Other devices

Personal communication devices

Personal communication devices include cellphones, iPads, tablets, laptop computers or any other device that a driver uses to communicate with his or her family, friends, other drivers, or employer. Since these devices use a “time stamp” to record the time that the device was in use, as well as with whom the driver was communicating, it is possible that such data could be used to confirm or refute data from other sources such as the truck’s ECM or ELD. Most importantly, such data could be used to verify statements made by the driver to police following an accident.

Traffic monitoring cameras

In many locations, the state Department of Transportation uses remote television cameras to monitor weather conditions and traffic flow on major highways. On occasion, these cameras will actually record a big truck accident as it happens. These cameras can also document when a truck passed through the camera’s field of view and this time can be used to estimate the average speed of the truck prior to an accident.

Why electronic data is important following a commercial truck accident

At the Doan Law Firm our commercial trucking accident lawyer can often use electronically-recorded data from both the ECM and the ELD to reconstruct the truck’s physical status up to and including the time an accident occurred. Unfortunately, access to such data is often left under the control of the trucking company since there are no laws/regulations that protect such data from destruction after an accident. An experienced truck accident lawyer can, however, take steps to prevent the deliberate destruction of data that may prove invaluable to a successful commercial truck accident injury case.

Our firm can subpoena a trucking company to produce all data that may be relevant to a truck accident, including all electronic records unique to the truck itself and the driver. We also have access to databases that list similar accidents involving the same company’s trucks. In many cases this evidence will be all that is needed to prove negligence on the part of the trucking company and the company will be forced to settle on terms that favorable to our client.

When you contact the commercial truck accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, your case review is always free of charge and will not obligate you to hire our firm. Should you decide to have us represent you in your commercial truck accident case, we will assume responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a previously-negotiated percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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