Science Café Cleveland presents


Vehicle Event Data Recorders - Can I trust my "Big Brother"?


NOVEMBER 8, 2010




Chuck Veppert (Crash Reconstructionist, Valley Technical Services, Valley City, Ohio)
Victor Vigluicci (Prosecutor, Portage County, Ohio)




Most vehicles built since the late 1990s are equipped with some sort of event data recorder designed to capture data in the event of a crash. Commonly recorded data points are: vehicle speed, engine RPM, throttle position, brake switch, seatbelt use, and crash severity (measured in g's). Some are capable of recording additional data such as individual tire pressures, cruise control use, occupant type, transmission position, and even some seemingly mundane things like ambient air temperature. While most EDRs are part of the supplemental inflatable restraint system (commonly referred to as the “airbag system”), some are located in other vehicle systems such as the Powertrain Control Module. While most vehicle EDRs record just a few seconds of data or less, some record 25 seconds of data, and at least one vehicle line always maintains data on the last 7 minutes of vehicle use. Numerous studies by the manufacturers, government safety groups, and private crash analysis associations have shown that EDR data is generally considered accurate and reliable.


EDR data was originally intended for use by the manufacturer in diagnosing vehicle defects and evaluating how systems performed in real world crashes. Many improvements in vehicle safety systems were a result of studying EDR data. But the data was also used in defending manufacturers in product liability suits. And once the existence of EDR data became public knowledge, it was sought after by police investigators and crash reconstructionists as evidence in civil and criminal cases. The landmark criminal case occurred in Florida involving a 2002 fatal crash where Edwin Matos crashed into a car backing out of a driveway, killing both occupants. Matos claimed that he was traveling at 50mph in the 30mph zone, but the airbag EDR data showed that he was traveling at 114mph about 5 seconds before the crash. After overruling attempts to suppress the EDR data, Matos was convicted of the deaths and sentenced to 30 years. Several states have since passed EDR laws dealing with issues such as – who owns the data, who can access it, and when. Obviously, insurance companies have shown interest in obtaining vehicle EDR data in major crashes where monetary claims can reach into the millions of dollars.

The different auto manufacturers have taken diverse views of the proper distribution of recorded crash data. Some have made the data readily accessible with commercially available software (i.e. GM, Ford, and Chrysler). Other manufacturers have offered access to the data only in certain specific instances, such as in lawsuits or with court subpoenas. Others have even vehemently denied the existence of recorded crash data and then later used the data to defend themselves in civil court.


Ten years ago public perception of vehicle EDR data began with chants of “Big Brother is watching you” and internet postings asking how to disable the EDR functions. But over time, recorded crash data has proven invaluable in helping to protect crash victim's rights and hold reckless drivers accountable for their actions. More recently, with claims of sudden acceleration and vehicle defects causing crashes, the public has begun questioning why EDR crash data recording is not mandatory and why some manufacturers can withhold access.




Date: November 8, 2010
Time: Drinks start at 6:30 PM, discussion starts around 7:00 PM
Location: Tasting Room, Great Lakes Brewing Company (2701 Carroll Ave, Cleveland)


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