When a large truck is involved in an accident and thought to be at fault, there are several aspects that will be considered in determining what happened during and prior to the accident. While the driver, witnesses and accident victims will all be asked to give their accounts of what happened, it can often come down to one persons word against another.
Factors that can be attributed to the fault of the driver such as whether they were tired, did not brake in time or were speeding can also be corroborated if there was a black box on-board the truck.
What Are Black Boxes On Trucks?
Most people have heard of “black boxes” being used in airplanes and are often retrieved after a plane crash with hopes of learning why the accident occurred. However, there are different types of black boxes that are also used in the trucking industry that have similar capabilities. These are called event data recorders (EDR) or electronic control modules (ECM) devices that store information that can be useful to determine the cause of a truck accident. Some of the information that can be stored in these devices that can be used in investigating the cause of a truck accident are:
- Speed. This can be important to prove whether the driver was exceeding the speed limit at the time of the crash.
- Braking. Looking at the brake use and comparing it to the testimony of witnesses, the driver and other people involved in the crash can help clarify what happened during the accident.
- Driving time. Many commercial truck accidents are caused from drivers that spend too many hours behind the wheel, making them tired resulting in deterioration of their cognitive skills and judgment. Although there are federal restrictions on hours driven each day by truck drivers, they are often not adhered to.
- Acceleration. Like braking, acceleration can help reconstruct what happened during or before the accident.
Although these are not mandatory, it is thought that at least 85% of commercial trucks on the road voluntarily have EDR or ECM devices installed. However, the data in these recorders can be damaged and even tampered with so it is important that it is retrieved as soon as possible after an accident.
Black Boxes Improving Trucking Industry Safety
Opinions vary on whether black boxes actually can affect safety. The biggest benefit would be due to drivers not exceeding the hour limits and reducing possible fatigue that can lead to accidents. Drivers argue that companies only want the devices to track their productivity and make sure they are on the road as much as possible. However, there are trucking companies that have implemented black boxes and claim to have a large decrease in the amount of accidents. In an article in the USA Today in June 2012, the vice-president of a Green Bay, WI trucking company stated that since they installed black boxes in all their 13,000 trucks in 2010, the number of injury and fatality accidents caused by fatigue had dropped drastically.
The data is not yet available on whether black boxes can help improve safety. It is thought that they can be a better way to record hours in service than previous written logs, which are easily manipulated by drivers. Most black boxes are difficult to tamper with, although certainly not impossible. If these black boxes can reduce the amount of truck drivers on the road that drive while fatigued, it will reduce accidents and save lives.