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Proposed fire standards are not likely to make it to final law

Toyota has had record recalls on its vehicles for safety concerns that stemmed from unintended acceleration. The recalls were some of the largest automotive recalls in history, cost the company huge amounts of money, and considerably tarnished its image.

As a result of the recalls and the difficulty that investigators had determining what was causing the sticking accelerator pedals in Toyota vehicles, new safety features are currently being written that will apply to all vehicles starting in the 2015 model year. More safety in vehicles is something that many drivers will appreciate, but the cost of one of the biggest features -- the black box -- may add significantly to the price of a new car.

Automotive News reports that the safety bill could triple the cost of the data recording black boxes used in vehicles today. Some estimates predict that if all the requirements that the NHTSA are proposing make it to be written into law, the cost of the black boxes could swell to $4,000 to $5,000 per unit. That cost would be passed on to the consumer, directly adding to the cost of new vehicles. The massive cost increase feared by automakers and consumer associations is mainly attributed to the proposed regulations that would make the data recorders in automobiles more like those in aircraft with standards for water resistance, fire resistance, and the amount of data the device can record.

Neil De Koker, CEO of the Original Equipment Suppliers Association is, "Any time you add complexity to the vehicle, you're adding a level of cost that will remove a certain number of people that are able to buy a new vehicle."  He added, "For the person that has that technology to make the event recorders, it's a great business opportunity."

Data recorders are already in about half the vehicles on the road according to estimates. The data recorders currently in vehicles are connected to the airbag circuit and can record about five seconds of data before a crash and a second after. Regulators are expected to extend that recording time before and after a crash, adding to the cost of the recorders.

Another issue that will add cost is that many vehicles on the road automatically disconnect the battery in an accident, which would mean that the data recorders would need their own power source to continue to record data.

Andy Whydell from TRW automotive Holdings Corp said, "Within the current airbag control unit design, with some limited modifications, current units could be adapted to meet water resistance and mechanical crash requirements." 

The fire resistance standards would likely be the most costly of the new proposed requirements. The box would have to gain bulk and would require a redesign in where the box is mounted in the car. Whydell said that a fire resistant recorder would probably be about the size of a shoebox.

The fire resistance proposals are the least likely to make it to the final law says Whydell. “The likelihood of really needing this extreme fireproof requirement is one that may not make financial sense for NHTSA,” Whydell said. He expects that in the end the data records in vehicles today will only gain modest updates to record more data and to record that data in a standardized format.

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$4-5K? Makes no damned sense
By chromal on 6/1/2010 11:19:09 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not sure how much hardening is really necessary, just locate it in the center of the vehicle, and statistically, it will survive most crashes. Put it in a cheap insulated steel box if you must, but do it with a microcontroller with lots of internal flash and with a reasonable design you could probably achieve your data storage requirement for $25 worth of microcontroller electronics. $4-5K is 5x the cost of a decent mid-range PC, I'm just not buying it, literally or figuratively.

RE: $4-5K? Makes no damned sense
By smithme08 on 6/1/2010 11:53:58 AM , Rating: 3
I'm with you. The cost seems like they are either making this thing nuclear blast proof, which isn't necessary, OR they have made NO effort whatsoever to find efficient low-cost ways of making them. Either way, as with all things, once seriously pressured to find ways to make them cheaper, I'm sure they will.

By ClownPuncher on 6/1/2010 3:14:18 PM , Rating: 3
I have a plan, though it may be too simple; don't put black boxes in cars. Who really thinks we need these?

RE: $4-5K? Makes no damned sense
By ekv on 6/1/2010 4:42:24 PM , Rating: 2
I was thinking along the same lines ... you don't really need to protect the microcontroller, just the flash memory. Basically, you're microcontroller is doing a archive/backup every second or so (to the center of the car).

Of course, what are the written regulations? Technical requirements may (or may not) be easily met, but if the regulations are written by politicians (who took campaign contributions from the BlackBox lobbyists) then it won't matter one way or tother. It's damn well going to cost $4k. Period.

Get the f'ing politicians out of it and let the engineers do their job. The marketing weenies will follow ... "oh yeah, well our car is engineered to keep up to 19.47 seconds of data" ad nauseum.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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