Car Event Data Recorder: The Black Box That Saves Money

By Renee Valdes 03/05/2024 8:00am

Customer meeting with insurance agent after accident. EDR can provide details.

Quick Facts About Car Event Data Recorders:

  • A car’s event data recorder gathers and stores crucial driving data and incident information before, during, and after a triggering event like an accident occurs with your vehicle. Some cars have had these black boxes since the mid-1990s.
  • The length of time the recording lasts depends on the carmaker and vehicle.
  • The device gathers information like the vehicle’s speed, impact timing, and braking and accelerating movements.

Arizona resident Ivy Siltala didn’t know she had an event data recorder (EDR) in her $28,000 car until she totaled it last December. As it turns out, her 2023 Toyota Corolla Hatchback stored critical information in her car’s EDR, also known as a black box. A car‘s EDR stores data about an incident or crash and can help car owners, police, and others determine the cause or actions in the seconds leading up to, during, and after an incident or crash.

In Siltala’s case, the data she pulled from the black box proved to the insurance company that she was not at fault during the accident. The proof saved her thousands of dollars. Read on to learn about EDRs, how they work, and may save you money if there’s an accident.

What Is an Event Data Recorder?

An event data recorder in a car gathers and stores crucial driving data and incident information before, during, and after a triggering event occurs with your vehicle. Some cars may record information continuously. Manufacturers installed EDRs in some cars dating back to the mid-1990s, including the Buick Century, Chevrolet Impala, and Cadillac Eldorado. Most new cars today have EDRs, yet many vehicle owners, like Siltala, do not know these black boxes exist or how to retrieve their data (more on that later).

The length of time the recording lasts depends on the carmaker and vehicle. According to the 2023 Toyota Corolla car manual (the car Siltala drove), the EDR typically records data for 30 seconds or less. The 2024 Hyundai Tucson exhibits the same behavior. The manuals also say that under “normal driving conditions,” the event data recorder is not capturing data.

The car’s black box typically stores incident information, and while the length of time varies by vehicle, some will store the information for up to a month.

What Information Does an Event Data Recorder Store?

Obtaining access to an event data recorder becomes vital if you’re involved in an accident, especially a no-fault one. The EDR gathers information, including details on:

  • Whether the vehicle was on or off
  • Speed of the vehicle
  • Timing of impacts
  • Braking and Accelerating movements
  • Seatbelts
  • Airbag deployment 
  • Alerts or warnings from advanced safety technology in the vehicle
  • Crash force angles
  • Impacts

Who Can Access the Information on an Event Data Recorder?

Many carmakers like Toyota will generally provide car crash data to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This government agency uses the data to understand crashes and provide vehicle safety ratings.

Also, carmakers may report data to law enforcement and courts when ordered. State and federal laws regulate the use of the data and when it can be provided. Vehicle owners can access the event data stored in the black box, though due to the special tools needed to retrieve the data, they usually must hire a specialist to obtain the information. Owners or those leasing a vehicle often must consent to access the data.

NHTSA officials told Kelley Blue Book, “Nearly all new vehicles come with event data recorders. NHTSA does have regulations on data collection, storage, and retrievability for electronic data recorders. Automakers must comply with this regulation if an electronic data recorder is installed in the vehicle.”

Toyota says on its website that the company has “always provided all data recorded by the EDRs to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), law enforcement authorities, and courts when requested or ordered to do so.” 

If your vehicle operates with adaptive cruise control or self-driving capability, the black box may record additional data on how the systems performed. It may detect the status and distances of the vehicle ahead and behind, potential external images from cameras, and if any malfunction of the systems occurred. Also, it may provide information only when airbags deploy or when systems activate, like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. You can read up on the details in your car owner’s manual.

[Editor’s Note: I’m driving the 2023 Nissan Ariya Empower+ as a long-term test vehicle. The manual says Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist systems come equipped with “supplemental data recording functionality,” and it assists in understanding how the system performs in “certain nontrivial crash or near-crash scenarios.” The system also provides information on the detection status of the direction of the driver’s face and eyelids at the time of the incident. It also says the system does “not record conversations, sounds, or images inside the vehicle.”]

How Does an Event Data Recorder Save You Money?

Accessing an event data recorder becomes important when accidents occur. It helped Siltala save thousands of dollars after her accident when the insurance company totaled her Toyota. Also, her insurance rates will not increase because she was not at fault. Here’s how it unfolded.

RELATED: Totaled Car: Everything You Need to Know

Siltala remembered being hit from behind in her vehicle, causing her car to hit the driver in front. The airbags in her Toyota Corolla did not deploy, but the front of her car looked like an accordion. She says the police blamed the driver behind her, yet she couldn’t believe the insurance company held her responsible for 50% of the accident. That’s when her grandfather researched her Toyota, determining that the vehicle had an event data recorder. 

“When I got the call that I would be 50% liable, I was so upset,” Siltala says, adding that all drivers involved carried State Farm car insurance. “It was just before Christmas. I had 1,800 miles on my car. I hadn’t even taken it for an oil change.”

Then came the challenge of getting the data out of her car, which she says was in her driveway, not at a shop. She found an expert to read the data, costing her $250.  

“It was the best $250 I ever spent,” she says. As soon as State Farm got the information, Siltala breathed a sigh of relief because the EDR information cleared her of any responsibility for the accident. She didn’t even need to pay the $500 deductible. She says she’ll soon be searching for a new car.

So, if you get into an accident, you can always hire an expert to download all the data related to your incident or accident. Also, because the data may not be stored for long periods, don’t waste time obtaining the data and keep your car within reach until you get the information. Always get your vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book value just after an accident to know what it’s worth. Siltala was relieved that her undrivable vehicle was towed to her driveway, making it easy to download.