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Home blog Criminal Defense When Your Car’s Black Box Becomes Evidence

When Your Car’s Black Box Becomes Evidence

By Michael Guisti on April 28, 2021

Black boxes are often mentioned after plane crashes, but most people do not realize that many other vehicles have these devices. Most modern trucking companies use black boxes to record a trucker’s actions in the event of a crash, and a recent accident involving a Tesla Model S has brought to light the importance of black-box data in improving vehicle safety.

However, black boxes can also be pivotal in determining whether a defendant committed a crime.

What Are Black Boxes?

Black boxes are small devices located within vehicles that record specific data. Also called Event Data Recorders (EDRs), most are designed to record data when a vehicle is a collision, including the vehicle’s speed, if the brakes were applied, if the driver was wearing a seatbelt, if an airbag deployed, and other information that may help the authorities determine how the crash occurred. Black boxes are typically installed by the manufacturer, but dealerships and other companies can have them installed, such as in the case of the trucking industry.

Which Vehicles Have Black Boxes?

Black boxes are common in semi-trucks, as these vehicles are often involved in catastrophic collisions that require thorough investigations. They are also used to enforce truck weight restrictions, how many hours a driver was at the wheel, and other critical regulations.

What most people don’t know is that modern cars also have black boxes installed in them.

Since 2014, all vehicles are required to have EDRs, and even some older vehicles from the ‘90s have had these devices installed. Black boxes help investigators determine how collisions occurred, auto manufacturers improve safety, and auto mechanics make repairs. While you may be concerned about someone accessing this information, there are laws about who can access black-box data and when.

Can the Police Access My Car’s Black-Box Data?

According to the Driver Privacy Act of 2015, the data in a black box is the legal property of the car’s owner. As such, there are specific procedures for accessing it without the owner’s consent. Here in California, Vehicle Code 9951 states that black-box data may only be retrieved and downloaded:

  • With the owner’s consent;
  • With a court order (a search warrant);
  • For vehicle safety research conducted by the manufacturer; or
  • For repairs, diagnostics, and maintenance by a technician.

For the police to access a vehicle’s black box, they must show probable cause to a judge that the device contains evidence in a criminal case. This may be relevant in a DUI with injuries, a hit-and-run, or vehicular manslaughter. If there is probable cause that the data may explain how the crime occurred, a judge can approve a search warrant for the police officers to access the black box and download the data.

However, beyond proving that you committed a specific traffic crime, there is little use or relevance in collecting black-box data. If an officer is attempting to acquire your car’s black box, you should contact an Orange County criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Our team at Law Office of Michael L. Guisti can act fast to protect your privacy and block any evidence acquired unjustly. We offer every client a free case evaluation, and encourage you to contact us at (714) 530-9690 or toll-free at (888) 478-8999 if you have been charged with a crime in Orange County.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense

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