Your car has its own “Black Box”

Automotive Black Boxes

For nearly two decades Ford and GM have included what are often referred to as Black Boxes to record certain accident related data pertaining to your vehicle.  Generally this data was stored or generated by the Air Bag Module which processes data from sensors placed throughout a vehicle to determine whether or not air bags should or should not be deployed (inflated).

The systems were originally developed for and installed in race cars to help build safer vehicles.  Over time they were inserted in consumer vehicles and after some court battles the means to readily download this data for use in accident reconstruction cases became available.  

Depending on the system, impact sets off the sensors which transmit data to the Air Bag Module.  The ABM gathers information on speed, RPMs, whether or not seats are occupied, whether seat belts are engaged, whether the brake is engaged and point of impact.  This data is stored in the module and can be downloaded in a very readable form for varying periods of time.  Typically situations calling for the deployment of air bags are stored indefinitely and those that do not are retained for a certain number of ignition cycles.  (Each time you start the engine and then shut it off = one ignition cycle.)

The data can be downloaded from the car or the module can be removed depending on the circumstances.  Either way hardware is necessary to access the data.  Therefore, a technician can not pull up near your car and conduct a wireless download of data.

This information is collected by law enforcement in many accident situations, but insurance companies have been slow to download the data from their clients’ vehicles in non-fatal situations.  In fact most cars go to scrap before data is downloaded or the driver effectively erases the data after X number of ignition cycles are exceeded.  Either way important evidence is destroyed.

One of the the concerns about this data involves privacy and the issue of who owns the information.  The US Senate just passed a bill that says the car owner or lessee is owner rather than the manufacturer or lessor.–senators-propose-law-covering-car-black-box-data

You should be aware that this data exists and could be used to prove your case if you are ever involved in an accident. 


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