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Police Have A Search Warrant For The Black Box In Tiger Woods’ SUV — Does Your Car Have One, Too?

Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com
Tiger Woods

We now know Tiger Woods told police officers investigating his February 23 car accident that not only is he unsure of what happened, but he doesn’t even remember driving before the crash.

We also learned the LA County Sheriff has requested and obtained a search warrant allowing them to examine the data collected by the black box from the golfer's vehicle.

What we didn't know was that, just like airplanes and spacecraft, cars have black boxes.

Does every car have a black box?

It might be news to you, too, considering how rarely we hear about black boxes outside of news reports on airplane crashes, for which these indestructible flight recorders are used to determine the cause of an accident.

However, black boxes, technically called telematic boxes and often referred to as event data recorders, have become increasingly popular in vehicles since as early as the '90s — and today, it's required that all new car models sold in the U.S. come equipped with one.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires that all event data recorders track at least these 15 specific variables.

1. Change in forward crash speed.

2. Maximum value of the cumulative change in velocity.

3. Time from the beginning of the crash at which the maximum change in forward speed occurs.

4. Speed.

5. Engine throttle: acceleration as measured by the throttle position sensor on the accelerator pedal compared to a fully depressed position.

6. Service brake, on or off to detect whether the brake pedal was pressed.

7. Ignition cycle, crash: number of power cycles applied to the recording device at the time of the crash.

8. Ignition cycle, download: at time of download, the number of power cycles applied to the recording device prior to EDR downloading.

9. Safety belt status of the driver.

10. Frontal airbag warning lamp, on or off.

11. Frontal airbag deployment, time to deploy on driver's side.

12. Frontal airbag deployment, time to deploy on right-front passenger's side.

13. Number of distinct crash events occurring within five seconds.

14. Time from event 1 to 2, such as a skid and a crash.

15. Complete file recorded, yes or no.

Manufacturers may also include additional data points, but these are generally supposed to exclude GPS location, video and audio.

Black boxes are fitted inside the car, usually in the dashboard, and are therefore both out of sight and difficult to access. There is no way, however, to delete the data or disable the black box yourself.

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Can your car's black box be used against you in court?

Only 15 states currently have laws specifying who can access black box data, but generally, no one, not even your insurance company, can pull the data without either your permission or a court order.

It is not uncommon for vehicle black boxes to act as “witnesses” against drivers in court. While this data was typically used to gather statistical traffic information since the 90s, more and more local police have been using black boxes in criminal cases.

In fact, several cases in recent years have allowed prosecutors to convict or exculpate drivers of criminal offenses using the data obtained in black boxes.

Why did the police get a search warrant for the black box from Tiger Woods' SUV?

In Woods' case, the affidavit reveals he was unconscious when he was found at the scene of the crash, which occurred near the border of Rolling Hills Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California.

"Driver said he did not know and did not even remember driving,” Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Johann Schoegl writes in the request to the court. “Driver was treated for his injuries at the hospital and was asked there again how the collision occurred. He repeated that he did not know and did not remember driving.”

Woods was hospitalized after the crash and underwent surgery for several leg injuries. At the time of the incident, officials did not believe alcohol was involved but could not rule out other substances. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has since gone on record saying there was no evidence of impairment of any kind.

The golfer is still recuperating in the hospital from the effects of the crash which occurred while he was still in recovery from a previous back injury that has prevented him from training and competing in tournaments.

In his request for a warrant to receive data from Woods’ black box, Schoegl said he believed the data could determine the cause of the accident. This would include ascertaining what speed Woods was traveling at when the crash occurred.

The report also claimed that the data and the information the police know so far about the accident “constitutes evidence that tends to show the commission of a felony or misdemeanor offense.’’

Sheriff Villanueva has said the ongoing investigation into the crash has not been declared a criminal investigation.

In order to obtain a search warrant, however, one does have to show probable cause.

TMZ reports having been told by multiple law enforcement sources that "there was probable cause to believe a crime may have been committed, and law enforcement sources say the possible offense is misdemeanor reckless driving."

While no specific crimes were listed as suspected, the affidavit did explicitly repeat that there is no evidence of impaired driving.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.