Does my car have a black box, and what does it do?

MADISON, Wis. — Every vehicle on America’s roads built after 2014 — and many before that — is equipped with an Event Data Recorder, also known as a “black box.”

Connected to the airbag control module, it records all sorts of information if there’s a crash or sudden deceleration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has put out a whole list of information that should be recorded at the time of a crash.

According to Prof. David Noyce at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, the data recorded includes the operating speed of the vehicle, brake usage, steering wheel angle and deceleration values.  The black box only stores the information after a crash.

Noyce, who is an expert on traffic, driver behavior and crashes, also works for a forensic engineering company in Madison that uses the data recorded by the black box to help reconstruct the scene of an accident.

“I can learn a lot about a crash looking at the data that I wouldn’t be able to determine if I didn’t have the info from the black box,” he said.

A forensic engineer needs special equipment to read the stored information, and that brings up the legal question of who owns the information on the black box.

Seventeen states have passed laws declaring the owner of the vehicle owns the data, but it can be obtained by court order for crash investigations or insurance purposes. Wisconsin does not have such a law, but it’s widely accepted the owner of the car is in control of the EDR’s information.

Legislation has been proposed in the state but no action has been taken.

To see if your vehicle has an EDR, check the manual.