Black Boxes in Trucking

Like an airplane, a commercial truck contains a black box or ECM (electronic control module) that records information about the truck and its operation. This information can be vital in commercial truck accidents. Information gleaned from ECM data can determine driver negligence or problems with truck maintenance.

One of the most important pieces of information provided by black boxes is actual driving time. Unfortunately this data can vary significantly from the time logged by the driver. Many wrecks are the result of driver negligence; this is one of the clearest ways of showing driver and/or trucking company negligence. ECMs also record overall average speed; highest speed; amount of time driving over 65 miles per hour; average revolutions per minute (RPMs); seat belt usage; air bag performance; and idling time. When all this information is pieced together it is possible to gain an accurate account of the driver’s habits, driving time, and any potential mechanical issues with the truck.

ECMs record data for a period ranging from as little as 10 minutes in older models, to 30 days in more current models. Depending upon state law this information may be considered the property of the truck owner, or the truck’s insurer. This means that any truck accident lawyer should move as quickly as possible to request this information before it is potentially tampered with or destroyed. An immediate protective order against the trucking company in question is one way to ensure the integrity of data recovered from ECMs.

The information found within ECMs can be one of the most powerful tools in a truck accident lawyer’s arsenal. The laws regarding ownership of ECM data make timely action to preserve this information vital. While this information remains the property of the vehicle owner, Arkansas law makes it clear that this information can be used without the owners consent in civil court if “relevant and reliable.”