'Black box' in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

It's not clear how much of the crash Woods recalls, but the black box data should be able to fill in gaps
Last Updated 26 February 2021, 11:32 IST

Investigators who are looking into the rollover crash that injured golf legend Tiger Woods will rely heavily on data stored in the Genesis SUV he was driving to figure out what happened.

The 2021 GV80, made by the Hyundai luxury brand, is likely to have a newer version of event data recorders nicknamed "black boxes" after more sophisticated recorders in airplanes. They store a treasure trove of data for authorities to review.

There aren't any U.S. regulations requiring the boxes, but the government does require the recorders to store 15 data points including speed before impact and whether brake and gas pedals were pressed.

The regulations don't cover new partially automated systems that can control speed, brake, and steer cars on freeways, and they don't address cameras and radar used in those systems. But some vehicles store some of the new systems' data.

Woods suffered a serious leg injury when the SUV he was driving went off a Los Angeles County road and rolled over on a downhill stretch known for crashes.

The county sheriff said Woods was not drunk and was driving alone in good weather when the SUV hit a raised median, went across oncoming lanes and rolled several times. The crash injured his right leg, requiring surgery.

It's not clear how much of the crash Woods recalls, but the black box data should be able to fill in gaps.


It's a computer that stores data from a vehicle's sensors that can be downloaded by police officers investigating a crash. The boxes usually are below the center of the dashboard or beneath seats to be protected from damage.


Most likely yes. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly all vehicles have them now. Even during the 2005 model year, 64% of vehicles had the boxes. General Motors put the first recorder in a vehicle in 1994 that stored limited data, said Richard Ruth, who runs a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that does crash investigations and trains police officers in crash reconstruction.


A federal regulation effective with the 2013 model year requires event data recorders to store 15 items, including speed up to five seconds before impact, whether and how much the gas pedal was pressed, whether the brakes were applied, whether the driver's seat belt was fastened, whether the front air bags inflated and how long that took, and the change in forward speed.

Newer versions of the boxes can store sideways force taken from gyroscopes, measuring how fast a vehicle rolled over or whether antilock brakes and stability control were operating.


A Genesis spokesman wouldn't say, but Ruth said other models made by Hyundai and affiliated automaker Kia record more than the required data. Some record steering angle before the crash, which would show how much the driver tried to avoid a crash, he said.

The Kia Forte compact car, for example, records how much pressure was on the brake pedal so investigators can see how hard a driver was braking. Newer vehicles like the Genesis SUV are equipped with automatic emergency braking and other safety systems from which the box could also record data. But Ruth said that varies by automaker and he's not sure how much was recorded in the Genesis.

Data could be stored from radar and cameras from advanced cruise control systems, and from more advanced accelerometers and gyroscopes, said Scott Martin, an assistant research engineer in Auburn University's GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory.

Some General Motors, Subaru and possibly Toyota vehicles record pictures before, during or after a crash, Ruth said. Sometimes those are stored outside of the data recorder.


Ruth says that would be helpful in crash investigations and in building databases to prevent or mitigate crashes. But Ruth also said such storage would be controversial because of privacy concerns.

For instance, cameras in some vehicles now monitor whether the driver is paying attention to the road, but people might not want that information to be retrieved. Many drivers wouldn't want police to be able to routinely access their speeds, especially in sports cars, Ruth said.

"Customers probably don't want cops or anyone else particularly knowing how fast they were going," he said. Currently the event data recorders can only be accessed after a crash, with permission from a vehicle owner or by court order, he said.

(Published 26 February 2021, 06:16 IST)

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