If you own a car made this century, chances are it has a type of black-box recorder that documents what happened in the event of a collision.
The device, known in the automotive industry as an event data recorder, is what authorities could tap as they investigate the nature of Tiger Woods’ horrifying crash Tuesday.
Woods was driving a Genesis GV80 luxury SUV when he careened off the road in a rollover accident that resulted in serious leg injuries for the golf legend. The reasons behind the crash remain unknown, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said a traffic investigation could take days or weeks.
Wednesday in a Facebook Live briefing, Villanueva said the department is not considering charges against Woods.
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Here’s what you need to know about event data recorders.
Most vehicles have one.
More than 19 in 20 new vehicles had one by 2014, according to car-research site Edmunds.
Today, nearly all consumer vehicles have them, said Raul Arbelaez, vice president of the Vehicle Research Center at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
They’re not technically required.
At one point about seven years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was considering requiring event data recorders.
But so many automakers were doing it voluntarily that the agency ultimately decided to instead encourage their use and issue requirements for when they are installed in vehicles, said Arbelaez, who was heavily involved in guiding the agency during that process.
They can capture a wide range of information in a crash
That includes information about airbag deployment, speed, sudden changes, whether seatbelts were buckled, steering wheel angle and roll rate.
But they’re not as sophisticated as black-box recorders in planes.
“The biggest difference being, an airplane’s crash recorder is recording the whole time” the plane is in use, Arbelaez said. “In the vehicle, the computer that does this work is much smaller and has a lot less memory.”
As a result, the car recorder is constantly recording over itself.
“Imagine a recorder that has a limited amount of recording space and will only (save) that recording if there’s an event that the vehicle senses is significant – a hard-enough impact or airbag deployment,” Arbelaez said. “If there isn’t and it gets to the end of its memory loop, it starts to rewrite.”
It does not snoop on you in the car
Unlike black boxes that record the pilot’s conversation in the cockpit of airplanes, event data recorders in vehicles don’t capture audio – or video, for that matter.
Authorities may be able to access your data if something goes wrong
Technically, you own and control the data on your car’s event data recorder. But if you’re involved in an accident and authorities are investigating, they can likely obtain the information.
“Privacy experts have expressed concern over the release of such data, which can be used in court cases to prove fault in an accident,” according to Consumer Reports. “States have different laws governing the release of the data.”
Arbelaez said it’s unusual for authorities to access the event data recorder unless it’s a very serious incident and they’ve obtained a warrant or subpoena. But investigators can also simply ask for the vehicle owner’s permission.
The data can help make cars safer and help hospitals treat injuries, according to Consumer Reports.
“But we also believe that the owners of the cars should own the data, and we have concerns over the privacy implications of its use,” CR said.
A special tool is required to access it.
Let’s just say you can’t exactly access the event data recorder using a USB port.
Crash investigators need to use a special tool to access the event data recorder using a data port that consumers might recognize as the same port that they can use to plug in a device to monitor their driving to save money on car insurance.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.