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What is a semi-truck black box?

On Behalf of | Apr 24, 2024 | Motor Vehicle Accidents |

When you hear the term “black box,” you might think of flight data recorders used in airplanes. You may be surprised to learn that cars and semi-trucks are often outfitted with similar devices. 

Officially known as Electronic Control Modules (ECM) or Event Data Recorders (EDR), these “black boxes” in semi-trucks can play an important role in understanding the events leading up to and during a crash scenario. As such, their information is often used by crash victims pursuing compensation from liable parties for the harm they’ve suffered. 

The functions and consequences of black box data

The black box in a semi-truck is designed to record data about the truck’s operation and the driver’s behavior seconds before, during and after a crash. Typically installed by a truck’s manufacturer, these devices are primarily intended for maintenance diagnostics and fleet management. However, the information they gather—such as speed, brake application, engine RPM, throttle position and airbag deployment times—can be consequential during accident investigations. Other important types of data gathered include:

  • Speed and braking: A black box records the truck’s speed and whether the brakes were applied before a collision, offering insights into a driver’s reaction time and speed consistency.
  • Engine performance: Information about an engine’s operation can indicate whether mechanical issues might have contributed to an accident.
  • Drive time: This data helps to verify if a trucking company or driver violated regulations regarding the maximum driving hours at the time of a collision, pointing to potential driver fatigue.

In the aftermath of a truck accident, the data stored in a semi-truck’s black box can become a consequential set of evidence. It can provide an objective account of a truck’s activity and a driver’s actions leading up to the crash in question. This information is particularly important when there are disputes about what happened or conflicting accounts from witnesses. By providing factual details about a truck’s operation and the driver’s actions, black box data can help establish liability in a personal injury scenario. As such, accurate data from a black box can (potentially) significantly strengthen a victim’s compensation claim. 

By clearly proving fault through data like sudden deceleration or non-compliance with traffic laws, victims may be able to make a compelling case for the extent of the truck driver’s or company’s liability, potentially increasing the damages awarded to the victim.