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Is Data From Vehicle "Black Boxes" Admissible in Court?

A Pennsylvania judge is considering admitting the recording of a vehicle's black box as evidence in a case involving a car accident that left three people dead.

In the wake of technological advances, it's possible the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could rule on this issue in the future. Although, a decision by the high court in Pennsylvania won't be binding on courts in other areas of the country, it might initiate a snowball effect and force other states and jurisdictions, like Iowa, to consider allowing vehicle-black box data to be admissible in court.


On motor vehicles, event data recorders (EDR) are much more rudimentary than aircraft recorders, and most only record the last five-seconds of vehicle speed, throttle position and brake use before an airbag deploys.

The judge in this case is holding a hearing and will allow experts to testify as to the usefulness of the data. According to a story from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, prosecutors claim the EDR indicates the vehicle was traveling at over 100 mph at the time of the accident. However, the defense attorney has claimed the vehicle was airborne when that speed measurement was made, rendering it inaccurate.

A limitation of the EDR is that unlike the aircraft recorders, the data is so limited that if the vehicle were airborne, there would be no precise way of knowing. Because there are no governmental standards, how the machines operate is up to the automobile manufacturers.

The judge will have to decide if the data is relevant and reliable enough to help a judge or jury decide some element of the case.


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