“Black Box” Data – What You Need to Know, Part 1: What a Truck’s Black Box Could Reveal in a Trucking Accident Case

October 21, 2014  |  Serious Accidents

When most people here the term “black box,” they think of airplanes. In fact, many people don’t realize that most passenger cars, and many trucks, buses and other commercial motor vehicles (“CMVs”) also have black boxes. These event data recorders (“EDRs”), commonly known as black boxes, often contain a wealth of information about the events that occurred immediately prior to and during a serious collision.

Part one of this two-part series outlines some of the critical information that can be found in a truck’s black box when there is a serious truck accident.

What Information is Available From a Truck’s Black Box?

Many manufacturers began installing EDRs in large trucks between 1997 and 1999. Although black box data recorders in trucks are not required by law, several heavy truck engines include EDRs. For example, manufacturers such as Detroit Diesel, Cummins, Mack and Mercedes have included EDRs the engines they manufactured for the last ten or more years.  

The black boxes installed in truck engines can provide an abundance of data that can help trucking accident victims demonstrate a trucking company and truck driver’s fault in a crash. The data available vary depending on the engine manufacturer and the circumstances of the truck accident. Some of the information that may be available on a trucks black box includes:

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  • The truck’s speed immediately prior to the collision;
  • Sudden deceleration (usually a sudden decrease in speed of 7-10 mph);
  • If and when the brakes were applied;
  • Whether the truck was using cruise control;
  • Monthly or daily engine activity; and
  • How frequently the truck is driven above a predetermined speed limit (for example, how often the truck is driven above 65 mph).


While much of this information can be deduced by experienced accident investigators, black box data can serve as an important tool to validate a driver’s explanation of how the crash happened.  

Challenges in Collecting the Black Box Data

One crucial problem in collecting black box data is the risk that information will be lost or destroyed. Sometimes, the data related to a crash can be destroyed accidentally by people working to remove crashed vehicles from the roadway. Other times, an unscrupulous trucking company may allow or instruct its employees to take steps that will lead to the destruction of this evidence. If a trucking company either intentionally or negligently causes relevant evidence to be destroyed, a trucking accident victim may be able to seek additional legal recourse against the company.

For example, if a tractor trailer is restarted and driven away from an accident scene, the data related to the events leading up to the collision could be lost. While many in the trucking industry are aware of this, truck accident victims often do not know this information. Because of this, a truck involved in a serious collision should be towed from the accident scene by an experience wrecker service. Once the truck is towed, it can be stored at a secure lot until an accident investigator retained by the victim’s lawyer downloads the black box data.

If there is relatively minimal damage to the truck, the trucking company may insist that the truck must be repaired and put back on the road immediately to avoid costing the company more money. In these instances, it is important to have an experienced lawyer to fight for your rights and collect the necessary information.

If you or a family member has been involved in a trucking accident, please contact the trucking accident team at Baron and Budd at 866-723-1890 or contact us online to learn how we can help you protect your rights and recover what you deserve.

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