The Semi Truck Black Box

You may be familiar with the term “black box” in the context of airplane crashes.  But did you know that there is also an instrument within certain commercial trucks which is referred to as a “black box”?

People are often surprised to learn that many commercial semi-trucks also have black boxes. This vital piece of equipment can tell investigators a lot about what may have caused, or contributed towards causing, a crash when no other evidence exists.

A black box is also known as an electronic control module (ECM) or event data recorder (EDR) and is like airplane black boxes. It is a computer system that records data about the physical properties of a truck or tractor-trailer.

These boxes record specific information like the truck’s speed and whether the brakes were working or engaged prior to a collision.

How is a Black Box Important in Your Truck Accident Case?

To be entitled to compensation for injuries in a truck accident case an accident victim must prove that the truck driver or company was at fault.

Black boxes can be vitally important in proving negligence.  Black box data can help determine what happened before and during an “event” such as a truck accident.

Do All Trucks Have a Black Box?

Not all trucks and tractor-trailers are equipped with black boxes. But, most trucks manufactured in the United States since the 1990’s have an Electronic Control Module (ECM) integrated with their engine components. 

The original intent of the technology had nothing whatsoever to do with truck safety. It was originally designed primarily to settle disputes over engine warranty claims.

Now most trucks manufactured since the 1990’s will have a black box integrated into their engine components. Many trucking companies also use satellite tracking equipment or trip recorders to monitor their fleet of trucks.

The electronic data from these types of devices can also be extremely helpful in proving your case.

Information Provided by a Black Box

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018 (last year of compiled reports) accidents with large trucks and buses left 176,000 people injured and 8,184 people dead.

The catastrophic nature of injuries that often arise in truck accidents makes it vitally important for accident victims to be fully compensated for their injuries.  To accomplish that, all liability issues should be put to rest.  The information that is compiled via black box technology goes a long ways towards accomplishing that goal.

Depending on the specific model, a truck’s black box may record some or all of the following information:

  • Fuel consumption
  • What the truck’s speed was immediately before the crash
  • Whether the truck accelerated or decelerated
  • Whether the truck’s brakes were applied and when
  • Whether the truck driver was wearing a seatbelt
  • Whether the truck driver was using cruise control
  • The monthly or daily truck activity
  • Number of hard stops and the RPM between stops
  • How often the truck was being driven at, above, or below a predetermined speed or the speed limit
  • Whether the truck’s airbag deployed
  • How many separate crashes (“events”) the truck was involved in, and the duration between those crashes
  • Tire pressure
  • GPS coordinates / location
  • Truck usage data (when and for how long a truck was driven) which can be compared to the driver’s log to determine if the trucker was violating the hours-of-service regulations regarding the maximum amount of time drivers may drive without breaks.

Some truck black boxes even record communications, such as emails, between truck drivers and the trucking or logistics company. These records can provide valuable information on whether the truck driver was under pressure to exceed safety limits on driving and/or may contain a wealth of information regarding driver fatigue, mechanical problems with the truck, and other important admissions.

In addition, Electronic Control Modules record the average speed spanning roughly thirty days, including information about how fast the truck was traveling at specific points in time.  Black boxes also record the hours the truckers are moving, which allows authorities to determine when logs have been falsified.

Data is also collected which shows how the truck itself performed and how the driver has treated the truck. Important data can determine whether the truck was maintained properly, whether a defect caused or contributed to an accident and if the driver negligently operated the vehicle.

When an accident occurs, the Electronic Control Module records the speed of the truck at the time of impact, the point when the brakes were applied, the deployment of the airbag and the force exerted at the point of impact. This data is everything an accident reconstruction expert needs to determine how an accident occurred and to assign fault.

Securing Black Box Data

If you have been injured in a truck accident, it is important to obtain the truck’s black box data as quickly as possible. Your case is so much stronger when you have evidence of clear violations of the law and other regulations.  But commercial trucking companies are aware of how damaging the black box data can be as well.

So, they are not inclined to voluntarily secure or turn over evidence that could require them to pay lots of money to compensate victims.  Truck drivers and/or trucking companies may seek to destroy or discard this data to protect themselves from a lawsuit or injury claim.  Unfortunately, that can sometimes make it difficult to preserve the data since it is primarily controlled by the trucking companies.

In addition, while most newer black boxes keep data for at least 30 days before it’s recorded over, older trucks may have ECMs that only store the data for a few days.  Therefore, once a crash occurs, a race begins between the trucking company and the victim’s attorney over the collection of the data on the black box. Sadly, when the trucking company reaches it first, it is often never seen or heard from again.

Speak With Our Personal Injury Attorneys Today

Why you Need an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney

An experienced attorney can take steps to ensure that the vehicle and black box data are secured and cannot be destroyed or altered.  Several states have passed legislation making the data recorded on the ECM the property of the trucking company.

Technically, that means the trucking company may destroy data immediately following an accident unless it is subject to a court restraining order. Some states restrict destruction of this data when it may reasonably be the subject of civil action.  Insurance companies may also have specific clauses that give them the right to download ECM data in the event of an accident.

A good truck accident attorney will take steps to ensure the data is secure. He or she may reach a written agreement with the legal representatives of the trucker, the company, or their insurers, or file an immediate petition for a protective order, with respect to the ECM data on the truck involved in the accident.

Next, seek a court order strictly limiting access or movement of the vehicle and ECM unit prior to inspection by the attorney or experts. Experts will also need to be secured right away to retrieve and interpret the data.  There are many additional steps which may be considered.

When you are involved in a truck accident case, the truck accident attorneys of VanDerGinst Law can help get you the compensation to which you are entitled.  Contact us today at 800-797-5391 for a FREE consultation.  There is never an attorney fee on truck accident injury cases unless we win!



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