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Black Box Data May Be Restricted

November 19, 2014 | Posted In Criminal Law

Black box information has long been used in investigations to determine what caused a car accident, how fast the driver was going, what time the accident occurred, the location of the vehicle and the number of people inside at the time of the crash. Such factors can provide a clearer picture of the moments just before a collision, and investigators consider them to be crucial to determining who is at fault in an accident.

Recently, criminal attorneys in New Jersey have learned that state lawmakers are considering legislation that would restrict access to the information stored in event data recorders installed in automobiles. Three legislators have expressed concerns that the information captured by the black box should be considered private property of the vehicle’s owner and that access to such information by third parties like law enforcement officials, insurance agencies and persons bringing civil suits or personal injury claims against the driver should be closely monitored.

A3579, sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, and S2433, sponsored by state Senators Fred Madden Jr., D-Gloucester, and James Beach, D-Camden, are currently traveling through the state’s legislative channels. A3579 was unanimously recommended by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee earlier last month, while S2433—a nearly identical bill—is awaiting decision from the State Law and Public Safety Committee.

These bills have been proposed on the heels of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ruling that all automobiles are required to have event data recorders, or EDRs, installed. Before this installation requirement is widespread, Moriarty and his supporters say it is necessary to put protections in place on such private information so that car owners do not have to compromise between safety and security. “There are no rules or regulations stating who has ownership or access” to the information captured by an EDR, said Moriarty. “This is important for security and privacy issues, and to have guidelines that spell out who these black boxes belong to and who has access.”

Who Should Have Access?

The proposed bills would make the black boxes and their information property of the vehicle owner. Additionally, access for law enforcement officials would be limited and granted only after a warrant had been obtained. Anyone bringing legal action against the driver and seeking black box data as evidence would need to provide a discovery order. A repair shop or car dealership would be able to download the black box information with the consent of the car owner.

The bills also seek to prohibit vehicle owners from destroying both the EDR and the information contained on it for up to two years after an accident that resulted in injury or death. Violation of this mandate would result in potential civil penalties up to $5,000.

The pending legislation has received support from several automobile manufacturers, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, and AAA. The ACLU in particular applauds the lawmakers’ efforts to protect electronic devices and the data secured on them.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys in New Jersey stay up-to-date on clients’ privacy rights and the available legal recourses in car crashes, collisions and other automobile-related crimes. For more information, contact an HCK attorney today. 

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