There’s been speculation about it in the
motoring pages, but now it seems to have happened: an Australian driver has
received a jail sentence on the evidence of the car’s computer system.

As SMH court reporter Geesche Jacobsen tells it this morning:

The teenager, who had had her P-plates for 10 days when
she was driving her new Peugeot convertible, pleaded guilty to three dangerous
driving offences after data from the car’s computer showed she was travelling
at 90 kmh, nearly twice the speed limit.

The accident happened in June last year in Raglan Street,
Mosman. The driver lost control of her car, hit the curb and a stone wall
before flipping, killing one passenger, Jade Graham, and seriously injuring two

Children’s Court magistrate Paul Mulroney said the sentencing guidelines left him no
option but to send the 18-year-old to prison for a minimum of two months to
deter other young drivers. The girl, 17 at the time of the accident, can’t be
named. She is out on bail pending an appeal.

Like so many fatal
accidents, there is a much broader story about youth, responsibility and loss,
but what will be picked up in the motoring pages is the role of the car’s
on-board computer.

A report on an earlier
stage of the trial, before a statement of events had been agreed and a plea
entered, had one of the passengers telling police the driver had not been
speeding. The driver said she had no memory of the accident.

But the car
itself did. As this Washington Post story tells it, many new cars now come with the automotive
equivalent of a plane’s “black box”:

The recorders can be a treasure for
police: They can reveal the speed, braking and throttle of vehicles in the
seconds before impact. The black boxes are no secret within the auto industry,
but many motorists remain unaware of them.

The Post story quotes Washington detectives
saying cars’ black boxes and other technological advances are helping them
solve the reasons for a greater percentage of fatal accidents:

“It can help sway an investigation one way or
another,” said Diliberto, who has helped reconstruct fatal crashes since
1991. “It can help define whether there is criminal culpability.”