Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a Black Box?
A Black Box, also known as an Electronic
Control Module (ECM), is a device that controls the engine
as well as monitor sensors on the vehicle. In addition,
the ECM is capable of providing numerous reports regarding
accident reconstruction such as Hard Braking & Quickstop
incidents, Last Stop, and several months of daily usage
reports. A new term EDR, (Event Data Recorder) is now also
appearing in automobiles and trucks.
2. Are Black Boxes required
on commercial vehicles?
The features used for litigation are
not required on commercial vehicles but all diesel engine
vehicles built today are run by an ECM. The brand of engine
will determine what is available regarding litigation information.
However, Black Boxes are not required on commercial vehicles.
3. How do I know if the vehicle
has an ECM?
All trucks equipped with DaimlerChrysler
Powersystems's Detroit Diesel engines since 1995 have some
form of electronic controls, and all Detroit Diesel engines
since December of 1997 have the reconstruction information
available. Mercedes-Benz engines since 2003 have the same
information as the DaimlerChrysler Powersystems's Detroit
Diesel engines. All other manufacturers have had ECMs on
the engine since the early 1990’s and the information
that is retrievable has value in accident litigation.
4. Who can extract the Data
from the ECM?
Any authorized truck or engine dealer
can extract data from their own products; however, most
dealers are leery to testify under oath regarding this information.
There are persons in the United States who can now offer
a download but, the ECM Team was the first (2001) trained,
certified and dealer notified by DaimlerChrysler Powersystems's
Detroit Diesel. Caterpillar, Mack and others are now part
of our services offered.
5. As an attorney, how can
this information help my case?
This information can be extremely crucial
for both plaintiff and defense. In most cases it is possible
that the reports generated can show conclusive information
determining fault in an incident and since the information
generated is factual, the evidence is often used by law
enforcement for accident reconstruction.
6. Can a damaged ECM still
have information that can be used?
In many cases, damaged ECM’s can
be downloaded. In cases where the ECM has suffered massive
damage, the chip that stores the data can sometimes be
removed and installed onto another ECM and allow a download
to be performed. In cases where extreme fire damage has
occurred there is usually no solution.
7. Is extracting ECM data
While data extraction is not inexpensive,
the value of the data can be priceless in litigation. ECM
data could show conclusively whether or not a party is at
fault or if information has been erased to limit exposure.
What is the price of "Not Knowing?" In
a recent case a trucking company reached a mediation agreement
settling a $155 million lawsuit involving a fatality, $55
million for compensatory and $100 million in punitive damages.
The settlement prohibited the disclosure of the terms. One
other case was still pending when this case story hit the
8. How long does it take
to extract and process the information?
The data extraction takes roughly 15-20
minutes and the analysis and report generation approximately
one day. Turn around time on an extraction and report is
48 hours if required. We generally have the capacity to
travel within four hour's notice and in some cases can extract
on the same day of an incident.
9. Can the ECM be removed
from the engine and still be downloaded?
Yes, we can perform downloads of Detroit
Diesel, Caterpillar, Mack, and Mercedes as well as others,
with specialized tools. But we strongly suggest on-site
downloading to prevent any future credibility questions
10. What action should I
take when it appears that an ECM download is necessary?
In the case of a fatality no one should
attempt to download the ECM data. The normal tendency of
the fleet is to want to see the information. We suggest
that you do not allow anyone to perform a download. Most
fatality cases the attorney will want to have a third party,
not the fleet dealer, engine manufacturer or accident reconstructionist
be involved. It is just cleaner.
11. Can I move the truck?
No, there are times that driving the
vehicle and stopping quickly at a stoplight or in the parking
lot can alter the last Hard Braking events or Quickstop
events. Yes, if less than a certain MPH on certain manufactures,
the data will not be altered. Play it safe in an all fatality
12. Do all the engine manufacturers
have the same data?
The answer is no. They each
have their own type of data. Caterpillar has Quick Stop
information that may be enabled or disabled. Mack and others
have similar data and Cummins at this time has no surface
data but some information may be helpful. In most cases
there is data that could be necessary for the offense or
defense in any case.
13. Who owns the data?
Clearly the owner of the vehicle.
California passed the nation's first Black Box Privacy Law
protecting the privacy of drivers and companies. It took
effect on July 1, 2004. It forbids access to the data without
either a court order or owner’s permission. We suggest
14. Can the State or local
police have access to the data?
Yes they can, but it has to be by court
order and generally it is not a problem to obtain the courts
approval to obtain the data.
15. Is there anything I should
do to protect myself?
The answer is yes. Do not let your shop
download the ECM, do not let any unauthorized individual
or shop attempt to download the ECM, and do not move the
vehicle. Call the ECM Team.
16. What if I have to move
If you do have to move it, ensure that
no panic stops occur. The last stop record will change if
you move the vehicle over a certain speed.
17. What if I need to operate
In most fatalities the vehicle will be
impounded and inoperable. In cases where the vehicle has
minor repairable damage and there is a likelihood of litigation,
it would be in your best interest to have the ECM Team representative
immediately download the information or remove the ECM and
secure it for future potential litigation.
18. If I remove it from the
engine is there anything I should know?
Most engines have an ECM mounted on the
engine. In the case of Mercedes and Mack Engines there are
two boxes to remove, one on the engine and one in the cab.
Both are needed for a download. Check with us or your vehicle
19. I need information on
a specific day last year; is it available?
Generally the answer is no, not on a
specific day. Once the vehicle is driven after the event,
the ECM only holds a certain amount of event data. The questions
are what data in the ECM would have value in the case, and
what trends and what information could be taken from the
life to date histograms that are retained in the ECM.
20. I am confused. What do I do?
Contact the ECM Team in your area. We can support you from the “Beginning to Settlement.”
“You always seemed to be able to get the answer I needed and did so in a timely manner. If I ever have the occasion I would recommend you to another attorney.”
Martina Dillion, Attorney at Law, Pratt & Singer