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Do Tractor Trailers Have a Black Box and Can it Help My Case?

Tractor Trailers Have a Black Box

If you’ve been involved in a truck accident in North Carolina, you’re well aware of what a terrifying experience it can be. It only takes a moment of inattention on a truck driver’s part to cause extremely serious injuries and extensive property damage.

You may have heard that tractor-trailers contain a black box that records the truck driver’s speed, steering input, cruise control use, and other driver and mechanical actions on the road.  A truck’s black box may contain a wealth of information that can play a pivotal role in the outcome of your truck accident case.

Types of Black Boxes in Tractor Trailers

The term black box initially referred to flight recorders in airplanes required by the FAA, but it has expanded to include data recorders that are in most commercial trucks and tractor trailers, and are also now found in modern private passenger automobiles.  In cases involving transfer trucks, delivery trucks, and tractor-trailers, the term black box typically refers to the EDR.  However, there are multiple data recorders in the trucking industry, and the following sources can be helpful in the thorough investigation of a truck accident.  

Event Data Recorders

Event Data Recorders (EDRs), as the name implies, record a variety of data before and during truck accidents. Some EDRs record all the time, and others only start recording when they detect certain types of activity, usually set to record during a “sudden braking event”.   The most common EDRs record only for several seconds before and after a sudden braking event.  Thus, when the truck driver applies the brakes to prepare for a collision, the black box records data before, during, and after an impact.

One problem with these EDRs is that if the truck is not seriously damaged (often the truck is easily repaired although the other cars are destroyed) and the truck is put back on the road, typically two later sudden braking events will erase the crash data.  Thus, it is wise to request an EDR download as soon as possible after a serious collision.  

EDR data will typically tell us the truck driver’s speed before he/she encountered danger, reveal their braking and steering input (showing how hard brakes are applied and to what extent the truck driver steers to avoid danger), indicate whether the cruise control was engaged, and show critical crash data including the change in speed at the instant before and after the collision.  These data points are essential to preparing a thorough crash reconstruction.  

Insurance companies that insure 18-wheelers and other commercial trucks have large insurance policies, so they have a lot of money at stake when a truck driver causes an accident.  They know that in North Carolina if the driver who was hit by a tractor-trailer is just slightly at fault (even just 1% responsible for the crash), the victim has no claims and the insurance company owes nothing for truck accident injuries, and property damage claims.  Securing EDR data early can be the most important step to proving that the crash victim was innocent and that the truck driver, the trucking company, and their insurers owe for all truck accident claims.

Electronic Logging Devices

Driver fatigue is a common cause of tractor-trailer accidents, and the truck accident victim’s attorney should take steps to demand that driver log data be preserved.  These records often reveal that the truck driver violated the federal laws that limit drive time and are aimed to prevent truck crashes caused by driver fatigue.

The federal and state drive-time limitations currently in effect in North Carolina are as follows:

  • 11-Hour Driving Limit – Truck drivers are allowed to drive a total of 11 hours during a 14-hour work shift.
  • 10 Hours Off Duty Required – Truck drivers are limited to driving a maximum of 11 hours in a 14-hour shift after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • 30-Minute Rest Breaks Required – Truck drivers must take a 30-minute rest break after driving for 8 without at least a 30-minute interruption. 
  • 14-Hour On-Duty Limit – A driver may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
  • 60/70-Hour Limit – A truck driver can only be on duty for 60 hours in a 7-day period or 70 hours in an 8-day period.  Commercial truck drivers are not allowed to drive after 60 hours on duty in 7 consecutive days, or 70 hours on duty in 8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7 or 8-consecutive day period after taking 34 or more hours of uninterrupted off-duty time.
  • Sleeper Berth Provision – Long haul drivers may split the required 10-hour off-duty period if that driver spends at least 7 consecutive hours in the truck’s sleeper berth and one other portion of the off-duty period is at least 2 hours long. These sleeper berth sessions must add up to 10 hours, which is the typical off-duty requirement.  
  • Adverse Driving Condition Exception – Truck drivers are allowed to extend the 11-hour maximum drive-time limit and the 14-hour on-duty limit by up to 2 hours when they encounter adverse driving conditions.
  • Short-Haul Driving Exception – Some truck drivers handle local driving only, and they have different rules.  A “short-haul” driver is exempt from certain requirements to maintain logs of the off/on-duty status if he/she operates within a 150-mile radius of the normal work “home office” or “reporting” location, and the driver does not exceed a maximum on-duty period of 14 hours.  Drivers who do not keep driver logs pursuant to the short-haul exception must report and return to the normal work reporting location within 14 consecutive hours and stay within a 150-mile radius of the work location.

Whether we access manual/written driver logs or Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), this information should be requested in every case.  With modern mapping technology, ELDs are far more common and typically are installed in all late-model trucks and tractor-trailers.  ELDs keep track of a driver’s hours, and show whether the driver stayed behind the wheel for longer than the law allows.  

ELDs maintain data off-site and this information will not disappear shortly after a collision.  However, under federal trucking regulations, the data can be discarded after six months.  We always request that the truck driver, the trucking company, and their insurer immediately store and protect this data so it cannot be discarded.  If we demand that evidence be set aside and carefully preserved, this gives us an advantage at trial if the truck driver and his employer fail to protect this important evidence.  

Electronic Control Modules

Electronic Control Modules (ECMs) provide fault codes when something goes wrong with a truck. This data can be helpful to determine whether a part failure or manufacturing defect played a part in your accident.

Truck Black Boxes Can Contain Data That Is Critical to Your Case

When someone talks about a truck’s black box, they’re typically referring to the truck’s EDR. The EDR records data such as:

  • Sudden stops
  • Speeding
  • Evasive actions and steering input
  • Routes driven
  • Tire pressure
  • Brake usage
  • Seatbelt usage
  • Cruise control usage
  • Sudden acceleration or deceleration
  • Communications between the driver and the trucking company

That last point is particularly important. For example, imagine that the driver told their employer they were too tired to continue driving. However, their employer replied that they must continue driving despite the driver’s fatigue to make a delivery deadline. 

In that event if the driver dozed off and drifted into your lane on the highway, crashing into you and several other cars, the communications information would be vital to a case.  This would show not only driver negligence for remaining on the road while tired, but active wrongdoing on the trucking company’s part for wilfully leaving a dangerously fatigued driver on the road.

Normally, it would be rather difficult to prove that someone fell asleep behind the wheel. But black box communications, coupled with data such as failure to brake before a collision, could give you the evidence you need.

Trucking companies know this, and that’s why some of them will try to keep black box data out of your lawyer’s hands.

How Your Attorney Can Help You Preserve Black Box Data

Trucking companies realize that black box information could give you a huge advantage in court. Naturally, you can’t expect the company to give you the data simply by asking. Some companies will even try to erase the data or even record over the data as soon as they can.

This is why you should contact an attorney right away after your truck accident. Your lawyer can demand that this evidence be shared through an inspection of the truck and download of the EDR, through the demand that the truck and EDR be left out-of-service and safeguarded until an inspection can be accomplished, and in some cases by filing with the Court to seek a restraining order that prevents the trucking company from deleting any black box data.  ,  

Reach Out to an Attorney Who Understands Truck Accident Laws

After a truck accident, fighting with the trucking company over truck black box data is probably the last thing you want to do. Our law firm deals only with serious motor vehicle accident cases throughout North Carolina, and we have extensive experience handling tractor-trailers, construction trucks, and all other types of commercial vehicle accident cases.  We stand ready to start working for you today.  You pay nothing upfront to retain us, and we immediately take control of the investigation and all communications with the truck driver’s lawyers and insurance carriers.  

Call our firm at (800) 411-1583 for a free consultation on your truck accident case today.