Pressure mounts for Toyota to share "black box" codes for electronic data recorders
Unlike most American auto makers, Toyota has refused to make available to anyone--including law enforcement--the codes necessary to interpret the data from so-called "black boxes" on Toyota vehicles. Electronic data recorders (EDRs) on General Motors and Ford vehicles and on many commercial trucks have provided an important evaluative and reconstruction tool in examining motor vehicle collisions (and determining cause or "fault"). For example, in our practice, we have witnessed cases where engineers were able to determine that a dead driver's vehicle lost traction on ice because she was traveling with the cruise control engaged; where a head-injured driver who had no memory of the event was driving at 80+ miles per hour when his vehicle left the highway; where a commercial truck's data recorder repudiated the driver's claims about speed and braking. In this 21st century world, it is disturbing-to-the-point-of-criminal that Toyota has never been forced to divulge the codes necessary to evaluate the data from its vehicles' EDRs.
The problems Toyota has experienced with sudden acceleration and braking may bring this situation to an end, however, and we hope it does. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Department is currently investigating whether Toyota complied with U.S. law by notifying the government within 5 days of identifying a product defect. Perhaps that investigation will lift the cloak on Toyota's electronic data collection.
With the list of alleged fatalities from sudden acceleration now up to 37, it is about time that some agency be provided with the capacity to mine this important source of hard data. In the meantime, police from Auburn, N.Y. have been forced to deliver the EDR from a fatality in their town to Toyota's California headquarters in an attempt to learn what the stored data will establish. Sadly, the data recovered will not have the credibility it should have if Toyota's engineering opinion cannot be corroborated by independent engineers.