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​​​​​​​Does your car speak for you? Yes, it does! Black Box Digital Forensics Investigations

Vehicle Black Box Data EDR

Written By

Brian Halpin

Does your car speak for you? Yes, it does!

Since the unfortunate automotive accident of Tiger Woods, there has been a growing awareness of the existence of a “black box” in an automobile. In this very public case involving a single-vehicle crash, law enforcement secured a warrant for the black box of the 2021 Hyundai GV 80 Woods was driving in Southern California. It has been reported that Woods had no recollection of the events leading up to the crash, therefore, the hope is that the data recorded to the black box will provide an explanation as to what happened.

The proper name for a black box is an event data recorder (EDR). You do not have to be driving a 2021 luxury vehicle for there to be an EDR on board. In fact, some American cars have had such devices since 1994, but virtually every vehicle since 2014 now has an event data recorder. Black boxes can be a gold mine of data and provide great clarity as to what really happened.  As technology develops, these black boxes are supplementing, confirming, and contradicting those involved in a vehicular accident. It is now commonplace for attorneys, insurance companies, and law enforcement to seek access as well as examine the black box. The black boxes can “speak” to the vehicle’s speed, brake application, seat belt usage, steering, the shifting weight of the vehicle, gear selection, and deployment of airbags, to name a few data points. The recorder is engaged five seconds prior to an incident and the data recorded remains available for collection dependent on the type of event that triggered the EDR to begin recording.

There are two categories of events that will determine how fast you must react to preserve the black box data. The first event is a “non-deployment” event wherein the airbags did not deploy. In this case, the data is considered volatile and may only be available for up to four weeks.  The second event is a “deployment” event in which, you would be correct in guessing, the data is stored indefinitely because of the airbags being deployed. In either case, you will want to preserve the data as soon as possible to avoid any potential loss of availability.

 While this information is useful, the black box does not provide location services, the time or date, nor capture audio or video. To collect this data we must look to other available sources to complete the picture of what happened, notice I didn’t say “what may have happened”. In the case of the Woods accident, surveillance cameras (CCTV) are being used in concert with black box data to paint a more holistic picture.

To secure information related to location services, we look to the infotainment systems within the vehicle. These systems vary in the types of data stored, but among them is GPS tracklogs. These logs can disclose where and when (date and time) you were at a specific location and the route taken to get there. Also, let us not forget that everyone has a cell phone, which also constantly tracks your location often with pinpoint accuracy.

So far, we have noted that your vehicle can speak for you through its black box and infotainment systems, but there is one additional feature that may speak thousands of words, and that is the video camera systems. Many automobile manufacturers build their cars equipped with cameras, Cadillac, BMW, Volvo, Mercedes, Kia, and Hyundai, to name a few.  Tesla certainly garnishes much attention these days and touts eight surround cameras providing 360 degrees of visability around their car up to 250 meters in range.  The video feature can be compared to a building surveillance system. The video clips for these cameras can be saved to the owner’s USB device and soon will be accessible from the Tesla App. This video data is volatile and can be erased with a factory reset, like a cell phone. Therefore, it is important to act quickly to preserve the data.

While most of us that own a vehicle do not know much about what is “going on under the hood” our automobiles are learning a lot about us. The three features noted above, the black box, infotainment system, and the video cameras, provide all the pieces to a puzzle that are required to understand what happened at a particular time, on a particular day, and a particular location, all without one word from you, the driver. It is a matter of preserving the data and conducting follow-up analysis that will solve your case.

At Capsicum, we work with attorneys, private investigators, and insurance companies to forensically preserve data contained in black boxes, infotainment systems, and video cameras of automobiles and shipping vessels. We even assist in taking these investigations beyond the vehicle itself, securing surveillance video from neighboring buildings, examining participants'/victims' cell phones and computers.  Additionally, we have assisted with black box investigations of other vehicles such as sunken ships. Our examinations and follow-up reporting have involved cases running the gamut of personal injury, to vehicular homicide, to alleged cheating in a boat race where a million dollars was at stake.

About Capsicum:
Capsicum was founded in 2000 within the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, LLP. (now Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP.) Charged with providing technology consulting support to their clients, we soon realized that the need to understand, collect, and forensically analyze digital data went far beyond what we were handling: We began our journey as general technologists, but quickly became specialists in digital forensics. Our areas of expertise soon evolved and expanded into forensic investigations, cybersecurity, discovery, electronic and paper recovery, security, regulatory compliance, and incident response retainers. In 2002, Capsicum became an independent consulting company that focuses on these core services. Employing high-caliber experts and a unique understanding of data, technology, and the law, we support organizations that need technological proficiency to run their companies and when they come face-to-face with difficult tech, legal, and regulatory situations. Capsicum is headquartered in Philadelphia, PA with offices in New York, Florida, Texas, and California.