‘Black box’ in Tiger Woods’ SUV could yield clues about cause of wreck

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DETROIT – Investigators investigating the rollover crash in which golf legend Tiger Woods was injured will rely heavily on data stored in the Genesis SUV he was driving to find out what happened.

The 2021 Genesis GV80, made by luxury brand Hyundai, will likely have a newer version of event data recorders nicknamed “black boxes” to more sophisticated aircraft recorders. They store a wealth of data for the authorities to assess.

There are no US regulations mandating the boxes, but the government does require the recorders to store 15 data points, including pre-collision speed and whether the brake and accelerator pedals were pressed.

The regulations do not cover new partially automated systems that can control, brake and steer cars on highways, and they do not cover cameras and radar used in those systems. But some vehicles store some data from the new systems.

Woods sustained a serious leg injury when the SUV he was driving drove off a Los Angeles County road and rolled onto a downhill stretch known for its crashes. The county sheriff said Woods was not drunk and was only driving in good weather when the SUV hit an elevated median strip, crossed oncoming traffic and rolled over several times. The crash injured his right leg and required surgery.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center said Woods was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Thursday for “continued orthopedic care and recovery.” The hospital did not provide any other details and said it respected the patient’s confidentiality.

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

WHAT IS AN EVENT DATA RECORDER?

It is a computer that stores data from a vehicle’s sensors that can be downloaded by police officers investigating an accident. The boxes are usually located under the center of the dashboard or under seats to be protected from damage.

IS THERE ONE IN MY CAR?

Probably. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says almost all vehicles now have them. Even during the 2005 model year, 64% of the vehicles had the boxes. General Motors installed the first recorder in a vehicle that would store limited data in 1994, said Richard Ruth, who runs a Washington, DC consultancy that conducts crash investigations and trains police officers on how to reconstruct a crash.

WHAT DATA DOES IT STORE?

A federal ordinance in effect with the 2013 model year requires event data recorders to store 15 items, including speed up to five seconds before the impact, whether and how much the accelerator is depressed, whether the brakes are applied, or the driver’s seat belt is fastened, whether the front airbags were deployed and how long it lasted, and the change in vehicle speed. Newer versions of the boxes can store lateral force from gyroscopes, measure how fast a vehicle was rolling, and whether anti-lock brakes and stability control were working.

WHAT HAS THE WOODS SUV BROUGHT INTO THE SHOP?

A Genesis spokesman wouldn’t say it, but Ruth said other models from Hyundai and its affiliated carmaker Kia record more than the required data. Some record steering angle for the crash, which would show how much the driver has tried to avoid a crash, he said. For example, the Kia Forte’s compact car records how much pressure was on the brake pedal, so researchers can see how hard a driver was braking.

Newer vehicles such as the Genesis SUV are equipped with automatic emergency braking and other safety systems that the box can also record data from. But Ruth said this varies by car manufacturer, and he’s not sure how much is included in Genesis. Data can be stored from advanced cruise control systems’ radar and cameras as well as from more advanced accelerometers and gyroscopes, said Scott Martin, an assistant research engineer at Auburn University’s GPS and vehicle dynamics lab.

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

SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT NEED MORE DATA TO BE STORED?

Ruth says this would be useful in crash investigations and in building databases to prevent or mitigate crashes. But Ruth also said such a storage would be controversial due to privacy concerns. For example, cameras in some vehicles now monitor the driver’s attention to the road, but people may not want that information to be retrieved.

Many drivers wouldn’t want the police to have routine access to their speeds, especially in sports cars, Ruth said. “Customers probably don’t want the police or anyone else to know how fast they were going,” he said. Currently, the event data recorders are only accessible after an accident, with the permission of a vehicle owner or by order of the judge, he said.