How much is your being found guilty or innocent dependent on your ability to pay? Little attention is given to this rising issue as technical data from motor vehicle manufacturers becomes more and more important in court cases. A recent example illustrates the growing problem.

A police investigator needed to obtain a download of event data recorder (EDR) data in a recent criminal proceeding from a vehicle manufacturer. The police investigator stated:

Many in the collision reconstruction field hold the opinion that vehicle manufacturers have the right to claim their fees because it is an economic inconvenience to them. Manufacturers are not in the business of offering collision reconstruction assistance in court cases, they are in the business of manufacturing motor/electric vehicles. The manufacturer must support a legal department that receives requests, technicians that must perform the downloads, and a shipping agency that accepts and sends out the EDR hardware. And so a fee of $2500 is deemed a reasonable fee. However is this fee reasonable in most cases?

The police investigator noted that his agency would not use the service “except in the most exceptional cases”. What does that mean? Does it mean that, for those cases where the EDR data could be helpful in supporting criminal charges? But what if there is a chance that the EDR data could prove that police charges were not legitimate? Would the police agency still pay the $2500 fee? Highly unlikely. And when police do not conduct the download, it is left to the person charged with a crime to find the funds to obtain the download. How often will that be possible? If you are in a position of high finance and power a fee of $2500 may be of minimal consequence. But there are likely to be far more persons who simply cannot afford that expense.

We are entering the age where motor vehicles are computers on wheels. They contain numerous computer modules that speak to each other, gathering data from each other so that decisions can be made about preventing collisions or protecting occupants once a collision is unavoidable. The available data is not just in traditional EDRs, they are in snapshots that can be obtained from exterior-facing cameras. They are data taken from communication devices that operate on a vehicle’s network. As these data become resident in more and more vehicle systems the download of such data becomes too costly and is not affordable to the average citizen. The is our brave new world.

As in so many areas government policy lags behind, and sometimes on purpose.