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User privacy and costs regarding the integration of high-tech EDRs are the largest concerns

The 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. 

General 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 application."

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 universally.

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RE: Hmmm.
By Samus on 5/26/2011 2:34:24 AM , Rating: 2
It's amazing how ignorant people are of automotive technology.

The RCM (restraint control module) in my 2002 Focus saved me from a lengthy lawsuit years ago when I was hit by a drunk driver. The (Chicago) police took their sweet time getting to the scene, and by the time he was booked and tested, he was under the legal limit.

The control module in my car was used to verify my story that he crossed into my lane as I was stationary in a left turn lane. The control module verified I was traveling at 0mph when the airbags deployed (head-on collision.)

I was uninjured, but he was, and he tried to counter-sue my insurance company (he had no insurance, but it seems that doesn't really matter in Illinois...) as my insurance was suing him to cover my uninsured motorist coverage claim on my Focus. Since there was no witness to this 1AM neighborhood intersection, it would have been my lawyer against his, and he had a personal injury which is usually favored over property damage claims in court. I would have possibly lost my house with the amount he was suing for.

In the end, his shady ass rightfully got nothing because of the data stored in my RCM.

If you're a good driver and don't cause accidents, you should be in favor of this technology. However, if you cause an accident and don't want evidence you did so because you have no balls and can't face the music for your mistakes, then I can see why you might have a problem with it. It isn't facism, it's fair.

RE: Hmmm.
By FITCamaro on 5/26/2011 9:30:43 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think people are against the boxes existing. What they are against though is the government mandating GPS tracking in them with mandatory wireless connections to them for law enforcement.

Every car in existence today pretty much has some form of "black box" in it that stores the latest acceleration and braking data as well as fuel trends etc. The latter of which is used in emissions testing for states that have it. If you reset your fuel trend data, it won't pass the emissions tests because that's a check that the software uses to make sure you're not running two different tunes, the fuel efficient one you just flashed in before coming to the test.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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