As far as bad days go, having your Corolla snitch on you after a crash ranks high up there.
If you think that autonomous vehicles are nothing more than a legal headache covered in red tape waiting to happen, then you must not know about the vehicle EDR. The acronym stands for Event Data Recorder and just as its name implies, the EDR is a device that serves as a black box to record a vehicle’s travel metrics right before a crash. The device keeps track of things like steering angle, speed, brake application, and whether or not a driver was wearing a seatbelt.
When a crash does happen, the data can be pulled from the device and used in court to help prove who was at fault. If a driver did not brake when they claimed to or was traveling much faster than the speed limit allows, then it's easy to see which party caused a wreck. Thing is, can a device installed in a vehicle that someone owns be pulled and used to incriminate them? This is an important question that was recently brought up by The Truth About Cars. Most recently, we covered the crash of a Tesla Model X that accelerated using all 762 horsepower and collided with a building. The owner of the Model X claimed that the car accelerated on its own, potentially exposing a fault in the Tesla’s Autopilot system.
A day later, Tesla was quick to debunk this accusation and blamed the driver saying that they accelerated into a building by mistake. To back up its claim, Tesla cited data from the Model X’s data recording systems that asserted that Autopilot was not engaged and the car was accelerating wildly under the driver’s command. As it turns out, Tesla is unique from other automakers in the sense that it does not use EDRs, but it still records driving data whether or not a crash is involved. It’s onboard data recorder does not qualify for the definition of an EDR in Tesla’s eyes and therefore the company does not need to adhere to the same rules. However, Tesla's system is used mainly so that it can improve on the Autopilot system.
Owners must sign a sales agreement when buying a Tesla that allows the company to use this data, but in other cases, it is the owner or leasing party of the vehicle who owns the data. However, when automakers build these devices, the impediments to accessing the data make it apparent who is intended to see it. Some automakers use a standard unit that can be decoded using a tool made by auto parts manufacturer Bosch. Others, like Jaguar Land Rover, use a standard unit but format the data so that it must pass through a JLR technician before it is decoded for use. Previously, data from crashed Jaguars and Land Rovers had to be sent to the UK for decoding, making the procedure anything but a cakewalk.
Currently, EDRs are used in about half of the cars that are on the road today, but owners rarely try to decode the potentially useful data to help see who is at fault in an accident. As long as they remain fairly inaccessible, this trend will continue. However, as autonomous technology rises to prominence, greater access to EDR data should be made possible to drivers so that they have a fair shot in court if the situation arises. If a case happens to be against an automaker, it's possible to see why giving the company all the power can have a downside. Given news has just broken that the NHTSA is investigating the first death to occur at the hands of a semi-autonomous vehicle, a Model S that sends data to Tesla, we may see the battle over driver data begin.