Deadly Train Derailment Demonstrates the Value of Event Data Recorders (Black Boxes)


December 09, 2013

A deadly train derailment this past Thanksgiving weekend that claimed the lives of at least four people and caused injury to at least sixty others serves as a testament to the complexity of interpreting the cause of many transportation accidents. While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) currently is investigating the crash and analyzing the event recorder data to determine the cause of the crash, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding the cause of the derailment according to a FoxNews.com report.

Event data recorders on the train are similar to those installed on airplanes that provide critical information in the event of a problem that leads to a near crash or actual aviation accident. The train derailed while negotiating a curve so the investigators are anxious to obtain information that is recorded by the event data recorder which includes application of the brakes, speed and throttle position. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speculated on a NBC's "Today" show that he believes that improper speed was a factor in causing the accident. However, the train operator reportedly informed law enforcement officers that the brakes failed to respond despite repeated attempts to engage the brakes to slow the train reports the New York Post. The article also indicated that the train conductor has been operating metro trains for two decades with no record of discipline.

The complex nature of this train crash demonstrates the value of having vehicles equipped with "black box" event data recorders. The cause of this deadly train accident is hard enough to determine with this valuable digital record because the witness accounts and evidence make it unclear whether the train derailment was the product of operator error, mechanical function or both. Further, the design and maintenance of switches, the track or other equipment may have been a factor given that the speed limit approaching the curve rapidly dropped from seventy mph to only thirty mph in the curve.

The National Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) regulation that requires all new passenger cars to be equipped with event data recorders beginning in September 1, 2014 can potentially help resolve some of the challenges faced by accident victims in crashes. When the cause of transportation accidents are in dispute like in this fatal train accident, the event data recorder can provide the information necessary to decipher the evidence and determine the cause of serious collisions, if this data can be obtaineed. Although there are some that worry about the potential invasion of privacy from these devices, they may ease the way for personal injury victims to obtain the compensation they deserve by providing key evidence regarding disputed facts.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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