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Federal investigators pull event data recorders from train that crashed in Hoboken

New York City readers have, by now, probably all heard about the commuter train accident that left one passenger dead and injured over 100 others. The accident occurred yesterday at the Hoboken station, and is now the subject of investigation by federal officials.

The exact cause of the Hoboken crash is still unknown, but investigators are apparently going to pull the event data recorders on the train to see whether they shed any light on the causes of the crash. In many cases where a commuter train crashes, there is a combination of factors that causes lead to the incident. These causes typically include things like deficiencies in the railroad infrastructure, equipment malfunction, and inattention by the engineer. 

Event data recorders, often called "black boxes," are installed in most new vehicles, though they are not current mandatory. Federal regulations do require, though, that event data recorders collect a standardized set of data, including 15 separate data elements, and make the data easily accessible. Some of the standard data includes: change in forward crash speed; the vehicle's speed; whether or not the brake was applied; whether or not the driver was using a safety belt; whether or not a frontal airbag warning lamp was activated; and the time between the first two crash events, if applicable. Some event data recorders collect much more data than that.

This information, as can be imagined, is potentially useful in determining what happened at the time of the accident, and whether the driver was at fault. The data can be used to corroborate findings from other crash investigation techniques or to obtain otherwise inaccessible information.

In our next post, we'll continue looking at this issue, particularly with respect to the limitations of black box data, ownership of the data, and its admissibility in court.

Sources:

Chicago Tribune, "Black box recorder recovered from wreckage of fatal New Jersey train crash," September 30, 2016.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Even data recorders, May 2016, Accessed September 30, 2016.