National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may make event data recorders,
or "black boxes," a requirement for all vehicles starting next month
according to Wired’s Autopia.
Event data recorders (EDR) are devices already installed in some automobiles, and
record information during vehicle crashes or accidents. EDRs cannot be turned
off, and once electronically triggered by problems in the engine or dramatic
shifts in wheel speed, the EDR records this vehicle input and produces a
snapshot of the final moments before the accident.
Motors has installed black boxes in nearly all models with airbags since the
1990's. In North America, GM currently uses Bosch EDRs for its models.
"In the early 90's, we could get diagnostic data, seatbelt use and
crash severity," said Brian Everest, GM's senior manager of field
incidents. "Currently, we can get crash severity, buckle status, precrash
data related to how many events the vehicle may have been in and brake
Newer vehicles can identify all of the above along with steering input and
whether lane departure warning systems were used.
Some people see EDRs as tracking devices that invade personal privacy, while
others see them as helpful
aids to accident-related cases. The main problem is that there are
no clear universal standards regarding EDRs and who can access their data.
Florida is one of 37 states that have no statutes barring the access to EDR
data, while most of the other 13 states would allow police officers with a
warrant to obtain EDR data.
Car companies originally owned the data, but courts later ruled that vehicle
owners and lessees owned the data. There are no federal laws regarding access
to EDR data, but states stepped in and determined how much data those other
than owners and lessees could access.
"Until recently, there has been no industry standard or recommended
practice governing EDR format, method of retrieval or procedure for
archival," said Tom Kowalick, chairman of the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers P1616 Standards Working Group on Motor Vehicle Data
Recorders. "Even for a given automaker, there may not be standardized
format. This lack of standardization has been an impediment to national-level
studies of vehicle and roadside crash safety. It also addresses concerns over
privacy rights by establishing standards protecting data from misuse."
Some statutes, such as one in particular in California, came about due to
insurance companies obtaining EDR data from users' vehicles without their
knowledge or consent.
In 2008, standards were proposed in an effort to make EDR data accessible to
more than just automakers as well as prevent data tampering. These guidelines
would also prevent the removal or deactivation of the black boxes, making them
useful and trustworthy. In addition, standards would clearly state who has
access to the data and what they can do with it.
While black boxes can be used for vehicle crashes in order to assess what happened,
they can also be used to determine whether an accident was caused due to a
vehicle defect, which would lead to a recall if necessary.
The NHTSA's pending mandate may assist in overall driver safety, but there are
still many concerns regarding EDRs. For instance, automakers and buyers hope
that newer, advanced black boxes do not heighten
the price of new vehicles. But perhaps the biggest question involves
access to the EDR data. Many wonder if insurance companies and car dealers will
be allowed to look at EDR data and deny claims based on that information.
"Our position on EDRs is that we would only use that data in a claims
investigation with customer consent or if we're required to do so by law,"
said Leah Knapp, a spokesperson for Progressive Auto Insurance.
For now, how much an EDR affects you depends on what data points it records and
where you live, but the NHTSA's new standards are expected to clarify this
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