How a Car Black Box Helps Accident Investigators

A black box, also known as event data recorder is traditionally associated with airplane accidents because it helps the investigators to determine what went wrong. But the technology is no longer limited to aircrafts. In fact, you most likely have a black box beneath your seat or behind the dashboard in your car. Almost all new cars are already equipped with one of these small devices and if you drive a car that is not older from 5 years, you most likely have one yourself. If you are not sure whether you car is equipped with a car black box or not, you can check the owner manual.


Unlike plane crashes, car accidents are not that difficult to solve because a collision leaves a series of evidence that point out to the cause of accident as well as who or what has caused it. In addition, there is usually at least one witness of the event other than the people involved in the accident. In most cases, accident investigators do not need the data from the car black box but the small device has helped solve a number of difficult cases and has been also used as evidence in the courts.

There are two types of car black boxes. The first is the one that you most likely have under your seat or behind the dashboard, while the second one is the video event data recorder that features a GPS and camera, and is installed on the windshield by the drivers on their own. The one that is beneath your seat or behind the dashboard is installed by the car manufacturer and cannot be removed nor disabled. This type of car black box records various data depending from one car to another, most often the speed, turning, braking, accelerating, decelerating, etc. about five seconds before the collision. However, those five seconds are usually enough to get the necessary information about the events that led to the accident. Even more, the data from the car black box has been also used as evidence in the courts and had a major influence on the outcome of the trial. For example, a man in Canada was convicted of dangerous driving because the data from his black box revealed that he was the one who was driving too fast not the deceased driver he had crashed into while driving through red light.

Car Black Box

The data from the car black box is a reliable record of the driver’s actions few seconds before the accident and is an important piece of evidence when there are no witnesses of the accident or/and the drivers are blaming each other for causing the collision. However, car accident investigators do not rely on the records of car black boxes alone just like airplane crash investigators also collect the fragments of the airplane before they start to search for potential causes and explanations of the crash. Car accident investigators also look at the physical evidence as well as try to find all the witnesses and individuals involved in the accident. In fact, they check the data from the black box only when the traditional way of reconstruction of the events is not possible or incomplete for one reason or the other.

Despite accuracy of the data from car black boxes, errors are possible either due to misinterpretation of the actions of the driver as well as due to environmental factors. For example, a slippery surface can make the car skid which in turn can give a misleading information about the speed.