Your vehicle has a ‘black box’ in it. Here’s what it does.

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Your vehicle has become a rolling computer, constantly collecting data on the road. One device you may not even know about is a little black box.

You may have heard about black boxes for airplanes. They can tell a lot about what was going on if a plane ever crashes. Many cars have the same type of device, and they become crucial in crashes.

Memphis Police tell us they use the boxes to get a lot of information after an accident, including how fast a vehicle was traveling at a certain point in time and even acceleration and braking.

“Some of the newer model cars are basically computers in the field. They have all kinds of mechanisms and features,” said Colonel Keith Watson with the Memphis Police Department.

The devices are standard on most new cars and have been in some models for years. There was even a push to make them mandatory.

The information gathered is also being used in court, like in the recent case of an accident that killed Memphis Police officer Nicholas Blow. An officer with the traffic investigation squad testified about how he was able to get information on the speed of the vehicle that hit Blow.

“We can download data that is stored in a vehicle’s air bag control module or what some people call the black box in a vehicle. I am trained as a technician in that field and an analyst in that field,” the officer testified.

But police say the advances in many vehicles, things like air bags and lane change features, are often compromised because of the severity of the crashes we are seeing in Memphis.

“Some of these speeds and the crashes involved in those speeds, those motors are sometimes in places where they shouldn’t be. Those motors in those vehicles are outside the vehicle itself, outside of the frame. Those debris fields in crashes have become more violent,” Watson said.

That’s why the push is on to decrease the number of crashes and to keep things safe on the road and behind the wheel.

Not everyone has access to the black boxes, including the vehicle owner. They are used by the manufacturer, law enforcement and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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