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How this totaled car’s black box caught a politician speeding


How this totaled car’s black box caught a politician speeding

Any politician who crashes a government-owned vehicle can expect some hard questions. A politician who flips and totals a Ford Crown Victoria at 5 a.m. several miles from his home faces far more suspicion. The Massachusetts pol behind this crash sought to clear his name by releasing the data from the car's "black box" — and in doing so, tripped himself up.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray crashed the 2007 Crown Vic on the morning of Nov. 2, after the car went off an interstate and rolled twice before hitting a rock ledge. Murray survived with minor injuries, and when Massachusetts State Police responded, Murray asked for and passed a sobriety test.

State police later chalked the crash up to icy roads. But under pressure from political opponents and lingering questions about why Murray was 30 miles from home — he said he had woken up early to survey snowstorm damage — Murray asked officials to release the data in the Crown Vic's "black box."

Most vehicles built in the past decade carry an event data recorder that captures what's happening in a car in the seconds before, during and after a crash, including the position of the brake and accelerator pedals, whether the driver was using a seat belt, and how fast the car was traveling.

Privacy advocates have long argued for tougher rules for accessing such data, and about a dozen states have tougher standards. But most states have no such rules, and the data can often be easily accessed after a crash by insurers or investigators. There's also no way to shut off data recording, which safety systems rely on to decide when to deploy an air bag or take other measures.

In Murray's case, the data showed he was speeding — going 75 mph on an interstate marked for 65 mph. But in the final few seconds before the crash, Murray pressed the accelerator, and the car's speed rose to 99 mph; it was traveling 106 mph by the time it hit the rock ledge.

The biggest surprise: Murrary was not wearing a seat belt.

Upon the release of the data today, Massachusetts State Police cited Murray for speeding, crossing lanes and not wearing a seat belt, leveling a $555 fine. Murray — who heretofore had not admitted driving without a seat belt nor falling asleep — said in a statement to Boston media that "I believe that is what caused my accident." Black boxes in cars may not be a beloved technology, but they can't hide the truth.