Black Boxes

When a plane crashes, investigators rely on its “black box” for data to see what happened. But when a car crashes, you have to rely on witnesses and drivers to recreate the accident. What if your car had a black box? Actually, yours might have one already. There are millions of cars on the road with black boxes, and what they know could be used against you in an insurance claim, and a court of law.

A black box is actually a module that controls the air bags on your car. It knows when to deploy the air bags because it is hooked into your car's computer. It knows how fast you are going, how quickly you stopped, whether your seat belt was on, and lots of other information. In many cases, it even stores the last few seconds of that information that happened right before you crashed.

There is software available now that allows someone to hook right up and download all of that data off of this black box. It is mostly on General Motors cars right now, but it has been expanding every year. As this technology gets better, this information is going to be used in court and for insurance claims even more. Some states are already working on laws to restrict who can use the information.

So what's the big deal? Well, up until now if you were in a crash it was your word against the other driver. But a “black box” is a powerful witness that can be used in court. For example, there was a case in Florida where a driver said he was doing 60 mph when he ran into another car, killing two young girls. The black box showed that he was actually going 114 mph before the fatal crash! That information was used to convict him of motor vehicle homicide.

But whose information is on the black box? Is it yours, because you own the car? Can the other person's insurance company or attorney legally take this information off of your car? These are the types of questions that need to be addressed in the near future, because there are lawyers and insurance adjusters that would love to get their hands on YOUR “black box”.

The Auto Guy – Jim Champion
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