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Black Boxes in Cars: Will it Happen in Massachusetts?

Many can’t forget the numerous car accidents attributed to faulty accelerators in Toyota vehicles last year, as it made headlines throughout the nation. It is not hard to imagine the terror and panic drivers felt as they were unable to stop, knowing a car accident was likely inevitable. Even though Toyota has tried everything in its power to move on from its accelerator defect, others have not, instead using it as an example to advocate for motor vehicle safety across the board.

In a study recently released, the U.S. National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, has spoken out about the need for updates to safety standards. These updates, the agency explains, are necessary to keep up with new technology that car manufacturers are using in cars. The agency recommends that all cars come installed with black boxes – a safety feature currently required for all commercial airplanes. These would be required for cars throughout the nation, including Massachusetts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for setting safety standards for cars and other vehicles, released a statement that they will consider the NRC’s recommendations, in order to determine whether this measure is necessary and will not be too costly for drivers.

Black Boxes in Cars

Black boxes serve as a nearly indestructible central processing system for the electronics contained in an airplane, including the devices used to measure wind speed, direction, and the weather conditions the airplane is flying in. The idea of placing these into cars would be to track similar conditions, including precipitation, the car’s speed, and perhaps most importantly, the electronic communications taking place within cars.

The NRC explained that car accidents caused by failures in electronic communication leave no trace of what happened before the crash, leaving investigators to conduct “best guesses” in order to attempt to solve safety problems so similar crashes do not happen in the future.

The Toyota recall is a perfect example of how a black box can assist in diagnosing defective vehicles. Had these cars been equipped with back boxes, they could have determined almost immediately that the electronic systems were not to blame – instead of the months that it did take.

The ability to track what goes wrong in crashes can prevent the continued mass production of cars with electronic defects and their distribution all over the U.S., including in Massachusetts. If the first vehicle observed with problems has a black box installed, safety officials and car manufacturers can discover the potential problem much sooner.

Car manufacturers have a duty to make safe products, and injuries caused by the failure to do so (for example, in the event of an electronics malfunction) may entitle people to recovery, including lost wages, pain and suffering and medical bills incurred due to the crash.