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Event Data Recorder

You may have heard of an aircraft flight data recorder, or “black box,” but did you know that your car may be equipped with something similar? Ninety-five percent of new vehicles have an onboard Event Data Recorder (EDR) that captures and stores vehicle data for several seconds before, during and after any crash where an airbag is triggered or there is an excessive rate of vehicle deceleration.

Compared to their airplane counterparts, EDRs have limited capabilities. The latest digital flight data recorders capture more than 700 pieces of information and the plane’s position, while the companion cockpit voice recorder stores the last two hours of flight crew communications. EDRs, on the other hand, generally gather data for a minimum of 15 parameters, including speed, acceleration and braking, and do not record vehicle location or audio data.

EDRs first appeared in vehicles in the mid-1970s as a way for automakers to monitor airbag performance and aid in making modifications to improve their effectiveness. Since then automakers, researchers and law enforcement have used EDRs for a variety of purposes, including crash reconstruction.

Following a collision, drivers may not recall all of the events, but information gleaned from the EDR can provide a reliable snapshot of what the vehicle and driver were doing just before and after a crash. Information from the EDR is then used in conjunction with other crash analysis techniques to provide investigators with a full picture of what happened.

So, how do you know if your car is equipped with an EDR? Their appearance and locations vary widely in vehicles, so it’s important to consult your owner’s manual. Federal law requires that all cars built after Sept. 1, 2012 include a notice in the owner’s manual if a vehicle has an EDR. The manuals for cars built before that date may or may not contain a notice.