Event Data Recorders - The "Black Box" for Safer Response

Black boxes are just one of many components in the overall driver education and training process.


This column is a component of VFIS' "Operation Safe Arrival" initiative, aimed at heightening safety awareness and reducing the frequency and severity of accidents involving emergency vehicles.

Event Data Recorders (EDR), commonly known as Black Box systems, have been used for many years to record crash related data. One example of this is when a vehicle decelerates in a crash. If you conduct a literature search on the Internet on safe driving, you get a response back on many topics. This article takes a snap shot view of one component of risk control that can preserve an emergency service organization's number one investment with technology that has been in existence for a number of years - the black box.

Early efforts pertaining to black box technology conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) incorporated a device which used analog signal processing and recording devices to analyze and store the crash data. NHTSA (April 2004), www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/edr-site/history.html. Today, similar devices exist in many industries including buses, trucking companies, and corporate vehicles. Capable of monitoring a wide range of vehicular data, the black box has, in many industries, become invaluable.

The airline industry has used this technology for decades to obtain pre-crash data and reconstruct collision scenarios. Emergency services can take the aviation mentality and put it in the front line mentality of our primary mission, "to protect and save lives." The optimum goal of a "black box system" is provider safety through safe driving.

Black Boxes

Although black box technology has been around for decades, it remains very new to the emergency services industry. Similar in nature to the black box recorder of an aircraft, the black box is a proven risk control device with many positive attributes. Black box systems have four core benefits that enhance safety, improve driver performance, reduce maintenance costs, and aid in incident investigation. Their purpose is simply to create behavior modification in drivers. The black box records a wide range of data that when periodically downloaded to a computer or viewed through a television monitor, can be used to identify particular circumstances and trends of driver performance. This data is then used to increase safety and in a positive fashion to motivate your staff.

In order to understand the effects and positive uses of black box technology, responders must be clear on the role this device plays in the scheme of driving. With or without the use of black boxes, response outcomes affect the crew, the public, and the customer every day. Emergency responders are trained to respond and mitigate a variety of situations in an aggressive nature with rapid assessment, treatment, and suppression techniques. The services and expectations provided are high and can foster other challenges for the emergency service organization.

Black boxes are just one of many components in the overall driver education and training process. They are typically mounted under the driver's seat or on the windshield. The black boxes are connected to the many vehicle components used in everyday driving. One essential key to driving safely, is low force driving. Emergency vehicle drivers must understand the vehicle and how physical forces impact virtually every aspect of the driving process. Sound, safe driving habits must be developed by all emergency vehicle drivers. Safe driving habits are created when the correct skills are practiced in the correct manner every time one drives, on and off the job. In true defensive driving, there are unintentional things that happen. The non professional driver acts unexpectedly and the emergency service driver has to defensively react in a quick fashion. The use of "black box systems" assists drivers in accomplishing these safe driving habits.

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