Police Need a Warrant to Access Your Car’s Black Box

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedDec 9, 2021
3 minute read

Police need a warrant to access your car’s black box for a criminal investigation, according to Colorado law. A vehicle black box, technically known as an event data recorder, is standard these days. While event data recorders can be used by a mechanic to figure out what’s wrong with your car, the information can be used by police to pursue criminal charges, including vehicular homicide.

This article explores what information a car’s black box can record and how state law regulates who has access to it, including law enforcement.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney 

If you’re facing charges after being involved in a serious auto accident, police very well may try to use the information in your car’s black box against you. That’s why it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney about your rights. Our Criminal Defense Team provides a initial meeting during which you’ll discuss the facts of your case, any charges, possible legal options, how much your defense may cost, and more. Call 303-688-0944 to set up your case assessment or schedule it online.

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Are Police Allowed Access to My Car’s Black Box?

Yes, in certain instances. Colorado law specifically states that the information on your car’s black box belongs to you. And no one can take that information without your approval, except in certain circumstances: one of those being that you are suspected of causing a wreck that hurt someone else.

Colorado law states that a law enforcement officer can:

“[retreive] the data pursuant to a court order as part of an investigation of a suspected violation of a law that has caused, or contributed to the cause of, an accident resulting in damage of property or injury to a person.” C.R.S. C.R.S. 42-4-2402(2)(f)

Now, police may try to convince you to grant them access to your vehicle’s black box, but the officer must have a warrant—a court order —to do so. Therefore, if they don’t have a warrant, you do not have to comply. You may be inclined to just let them take the data so you can clear your name, but, remember, police are looking for information to build a case against you. We strongly encourage you to talk with a criminal defense attorney before you make that kind of decision.

Does My Car Have a Black Box? 

It very likely does, especially if you drive a newer car. If your vehicle is a 2013 model or newer, it probably has a black box. The practice of adding event data recorders, or EDRs, to cars began in the mid-1990s by a handful of carmakers. EDRs became mandatory in all new cars in 2014.

The best way to find out if your car has a black box is to review your owner’s manual. State law requires car manufacturers that sell or lease vehicles with EDRs in Colorado to disclose that information in the owner’s manual in bold type. C.R.S. C.R.S. 42-4-2402(1)

What Does My Car’s Black Box Record? 

Black boxes are not the same across all car manufacturers. That means the data that your EDR captures may be a little different from that of your neighbor’s truck. However, there are 15 data points that the federal government requires all back boxes to record. 49 CFR 563.7 

Those data elements include, but are not limited to:
  • speed
  • acceleration
  • seat belt status
  • airbag deployment

Originally, black boxes recorded data if the airbags were released. Today, event data recorders gather information during crashes regardless of airbag deployment.

Generally, a black box records what’s going on during the 10 to 20 seconds before the crash and 5 to 10 seconds afterward.

The event data recorder can pick up information like sharp jerks of the steering wheel; if you applied the breaks; and whether you were speeding before a crash.

Can I Turn Off the Event Data Recorder?

There’s no way for you to actually turn it off. Also, removing the black box would be pretty difficult if not impossible because it is connected to your car’s airbag system.

Using Black Box Data in Your Case

While an EDR’s data can be used against you in a criminal or civil case, it can also be used in your favor. So consider that before you decide to try to tamper with the black box.

Consult with a Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney

If you were the driver in an accident in which someone was injured or killed, you definitely need to speak with a criminal defense attorney. Our team offers case assessments. Call 303-688-0944 to schedule the meeting or click here.

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