The recent shooting death of two men in Chesapeake by Portsmouth police officers reveals the integral part that modern automobile technology plays in today’s accident investigations.  Police seized the event data recorder (EDR) – also known as a “black box” – from the victim’s vehicle to aid in their investigation.  From the EDR they should be able to determine what actions the driver took in the seconds before his death.  Investigators hope that this information will help them piece together exactly what actions the driver took before he was fatally shot by police.


Most recent model vehicles contain EDRs.  These devices began as a way for auto manufacturers to capture information about airbag functioning in accidents, and have since morphed into more general data recorders.  EDRs can track everything from vehicle speed to when and how hard the driver applied the brakes to the direction the car was traveling at the time of impact.  They typically record data up to 10 seconds before the crash and several seconds afterwards.


In the case of the killing of two suspects by Portsmouth police, information on the EDR could allow investigators to verify the statement made by officers at the scene of the accident.  According to officers, the suspects backed into a police vehicle and then moved forward, pinning an officer between their car and another patrol car.  EDR data from the deceased suspects’ vehicle may be able to confirm what happened that day, or give officials reason to dig deeper into the shootings.


EDR devices are controversial to be sure.  Many Americans are unaware that their vehicle has the ability to record information in a crash.  Read more about EDRs and the even more controversial vehicle status data recorders (VSDRs) in our articles “How much do you know about your car’s little black box?” and "Vehicle Event Data Recorders: Big Brother is Watching".

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