Picture taken by Ian Britton: http://www.ianbritton.co.uk/
All cars with airbags have a crash data recorder (hereinafter CDR) or an electronic data recorder. Now police and prosecutors often use the information in the CDR to help in vehicular homicide cases. The CDR is not a car’s version of a black box in an airplane. A black box in an airplane is designed to record the entire plane’s systems data when the crash occurs. The black box is not designed to control any safety systems on an airplane.
The primary purpose of the CDR is to trigger airbags to protect the people in the car. Essentially, the CDR evaluates information relative to the car’s operation and figures out whether it should deploy the airbags.
However, the CDR also has a secondary purpose. The CDR can record data up to 5 seconds. The data the CDR may have include up to eight different things:
- Deployment or non-deployment of airbags
- Speed of vehicle
- Throttle position
- Brake light status
- Seatbelt lamp status
- Engine RPM
- Number of ignition cycles at deployment
- Change in velocity of vehicle at impact
The information can be retrieved by certified technicians through the car’s data link. This is not always possible depending on the damage from the accident.
The car will activate the CDR when the car reaches certain combined conditions. The CDR takes in account many factors, two being the speed of the car and the change in velocity. When certain conditions are reached the CDR will deploy the airbags.
As you can imagine, the speed, the change and velocity of a car among the other 6 areas of data the CDR could have can assist the prosecution in compiling a case. For example, say if the prosecution had a theory that the defendant was involved with illegal street racing that lead to the death of a pedestrian. Now if the CDR shows that prior to impact the defendant’s car was traveling at well over 100 mph, it would help in proving the prosecution’s theory of the case. The airbag may be an effective device to save a life, but could also be used as an effective tool in a legal case.
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