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The Wall Street Journal reports that plaintiffs' lawyers and safety advocates are asking for Toyota black box data access in order to gain some knowledge about what may be causing the sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles that spurred massive recalls. So far, Toyota will only allow black box access if it is asked to do so by court order, a request from law enforcement, or a request from federal regulators such as the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
As discussed previously in FindLaw's Injured blog, many Toyota consumers have filed lawsuits against Toyota over sudden acceleration in their vehicles. The sudden acceleration has caused many consumers to crash their vehicles, sometimes with deadly consequences. The black box data stored in these cars has information such as records of vehicle and engine speeds, as well as brake, accelerator and throttle positions.
However, gaining access to read the black box data is something that is more difficult than it seems. Toyota is the only one that can decipher the black box data. Investigators question whether it is prudent to have one of the parties of ongoing litigation be reponsible for deciphering crucial data. Auburn Police Lt. Shawn Butler told the Wall Stree Journal: "We're at their mercy, and it doesn't give you a good feeling."
While black boxes in cars is nothing new (two thirds of new vehicles have black boxes), other car manufacturers actually use an open platform. According to Newsweek, Ford and Chrysler vehicles use black boxes that enable law enforcement officials to download black box data. Toyota keeps its data secret. There is currently only one laptop in the United States that can read the black box data stored in a Toyota black box, according to Newsweek.
Many lawyers are trying to make sure that Toyota lives by its tagline of "Moving Forward" when it comes to gaining access to its black box data. Newsweek quoted April Yergin, a Houston-based accident-reconstruction expert as saying that if Toyota is not forthcoming during lawsuits about this information, it will not bode well for the car maker. She said: "They're going to be sorry they've made the system so closed."
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