Vehicle Event Data Recorders: Big Brother is Watching

If you are involved in a motor vehicle crash, did you know that a small device in your vehicle could record pertinent data from before, during, and after the accident?  It is true, and it’s something we are hearing more and more about in car accident cases these days.  Event Data Recorders (EDRs) are devices typically contained in the airbag control module in most vehicles sold in the United States.  EDRs are triggered to save data when the airbags deploy in a crash, so basic EDRs are designed to only save vehicle information if you are in an accident.  However, there are more sophisticated event recorders like Vehicle Status Data Recorders (VSDRs) which are always on; these devices are newer and only used in a few vehicles.


Data gathered by EDRs


Right now the amount and type of data stored by EDRs varies widely.  There is no standardization in place and vehicle manufacturers are free to install EDRs that collect any kind of data they believe to be important.  However, the federal government stepped in, and in 2006 the NHTSA outlined federal regulations governing all EDRs that will take effect for vehicle model year 2013.  The regulations are an attempt to first standardize the type of data collected, and also ensure that customers are notified that EDRs are installed in their vehicles and make sure the data is relatively easy to retrieve.


  • For model year 2013, all motor vehicle EDRs must record:
    Any changes to forward crash speed
    Maximum change in forward crash speed
    Time from beginning of crash at which the maximum change in forward crash speed occurs
    Speed vehicle was traveling at time of crash
    How far the accelerator pedal was pressed
    Whether or not brakes were used
    Number of times the engine had been started since vehicle was manufactured, prior to the crash.
    Number of times the engine had been started since vehicle was manufactured, prior to EDR data download
    Whether or not driver was using the seat belt
    Whether or not frontal airbag was working properly
    Time from beginning of the crash event to when the frontal airbag begins to deploy
    Time from beginning of the crash to when the right frontal airbag begins to deploy
    Number of crash events (i.e. head on collision followed by side-swipe)
    Time between first two crash events, if applicable
    Whether or not EDR completed recording


Limitations of EDRs


Data from EDR devices can clearly be very useful not only in accident investigations but also for researchers trying to improve vehicle and road safety.  However, EDRs have two major limitations.  First of all, EDR data may be difficult to retrieve.  This can be due to a poorly designed EDR interface, hard to use data retrieval process, or a proprietary data retrieval system available only to the vehicle manufacturer.  In some cases a manufacturer or vehicle owner may refuse to allow EDR data to be retrieved, in which case a court order is required to access the data.


Secondly EDR devices can be damaged in the very crashes about which they are storing information.  This means that data can be incomplete or impossible to retrieve.  With more standardization and as more becomes known about how these devices operate, manufacturers should improve the crash-worthiness of these devices so they can provide investigators and researchers with the information they need to reconstruct what happened in the accident.


You can read more about EDRs in our library article “How much do you know about your car’s little black box?  For help with your Virginia or North Carolina car accident case, please contact the personal injury attorneys at Tavss Fletcher.



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