Do Tractor Trailers Have a Black Box?

Apr 13, 2023 | Auto Accidents

Tractor Trailer Black Box | Truck Accident Lawyer Geoff McDonald & Associates

One of the first orders or business after a truck crash is to request access to the tractor trailer’s black box. Black boxes often contain critical evidence that can help establish the facts of the accident and support your claim.

However, the law requires trucking companies to keep black box data for only six months, after which a company is allowed to destroy it. 

If you need help retrieving black box data, contact the legal team at Geoff McDonald & Associates with offices in Richmond and Virginia Beach, VA. 

What Is a Tractor Trailer Black Box?

“Black box” is an umbrella term for a wide array of computer systems that monitor and record the status of commercial trucks and the behavior of truck drivers. Some black boxes record non-stop, while others only record when they detect an accident.

Types of black boxes include:

  • Electronic Control Modules (ECMs): ECMs monitor vehicle and engine performance, including transmission function, traction control, engine speed, fuel injection timing, anti-lock brake systems, tire pressure, transmission temperature, emissions, and battery information.
  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs): ELDs monitor driver service hours by recording data about movement, engine function, and distance traveled. 
  • Event Data Recorders (EDRs): EDRs are what many people think of when they hear “black box.” These systems monitor and record vehicle data in the moments before an accident or a near-miss. That includes information about the truck’s speed, clutch engagement, wheel turning, sudden braking or deceleration, airbag deployment, seat belt tensioner activation, cruise control status, and more.

Do Semi-Trucks Have a Black Box?

Many commercial trucks today have black boxes. Truck manufacturers first started using ECMs over twenty years ago to better handle warranty claims. As a result, most truck models manufactured since the 1990s come with an ECM as part of their standard engine components.

Federal law has also required commercial truck

s to have ELDs since 2017, to ensure compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service regulations.

In addition, many trucking companies now use satellite tracking or trip recorders to monitor their vehicles.

Why Black Boxes Matter in Truck Accident Cases

Black boxes, and EDRs in particular, often contain critical data about truck accidents. EDRs usually store around 30 days’ worth of recordings, including:

  • Truck speed
  • Speed limits
  • Driving time
  • Brake usage
  • Seatbelt use
  • Airbag deployment

This information can be critical to establishing the facts of the case and supporting a claim. However, you must act quickly. Federal law only requires trucking companies to keep black box data for six months from the date of the accident. After that, the trucking company may destroy potentially incriminating evidence.

Retrieving Tractor Trailer Black Box Data

To protect and retrieve black box data and other important information, at Geoff McDonald & Associates, we immediately send preservation letters to:

  • The trucking company
  • All potential defendants
  • Other individuals who may possess critical evidence

Preservation letters inform the recipients that they are under a legal duty to preserve potential evidence. A preservation letter can also help in case evidence goes missing at a later date.

Our truck accident lawyers then write a separate letter to the trucking and insurance companies to request black box data.

If You’ve Been in a Truck Accident, You Must Act Fast

The trucking company may try to destroy tractor trailer black box data and other critical evidence. At Geoff McDonald & Associates, we can make sure that doesn’t happen, and help when it does. 

Call us or fill out our contact form to book a free consultation with our Virginia truck accident attorneys.

Geoff McDonald and Associates: 804-888-8888.


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